Marvaysha Seals didn’t even need to look back.
The West Lowndes senior guard dribbled up the middle of the court with no urgency and no Starkville Academy defender in sight. Seals headed for the right side of the basket, where she laid the ball up and in off the glass, stretching the Panthers’ lead by two more points.
It was just one more fast-break layup for West Lowndes in a game already replete with them, but the basket proved the perfect example of how the Panthers’ frenetic pace exhausted the Volunteers en route to a 60-41 win Saturday at the Impact Sports Christmas Classic.
“That’s our goal: to tire them down,” West Lowndes coach Takeea Bozeman said.
West Lowndes beat Starkville Academy up and down the court constantly, blocking shots or stealing passes on one end of the court and speeding ahead for layups on the other. A fast-paced 12-0 run early in the second quarter took the Panthers from down six points to up six in the blink of an eye.
“Everything just fell into place,” Bozeman said. They started playing more aggressive on defense, and we got a lot of turnovers.”
As much as the run energized the Panthers, it deflated the Vols, who had been riding high after Friday’s two-point win over Noxubee County at the East Webster Christmas Classic.
“That hurt,” Starkville Academy senior Meri Laci Archer said. “It really hurt. It hurt our confidence a lot. … We never came back from it, so it really hurt us.”
The Panthers went from trailing 13-7 late in the first quarter to being ahead 30-19 at the half, and they kept it up from there. Junior Tydajasha Hood scored 12 of her 19 points in the second half and was named the game’s most valuable player.
“She played really well,” West Lowndes coach Takeea Bozeman said. “She was passing the ball, playing defense and scoring.”
Hood combined with Seals, who had 16 points Saturday, to orchestrate the Panthers’ offensive attack. The two have been playing together since AAU ball when they were little, Seals said, and they’ve cultivated their chemistry over a long time.
“She’s like a little sister to me on the court, and we play very well,” Seals said.
Saturday, they played well enough to get the Panthers to 9-0, achieving a start that West Lowndes felt confident it could reach.
And it left Starkville Academy disappointed about the game the Vols think they had a chance to win — albeit optimistic.
“We could have done better,” Archer said. “We should have done better. As coach (Bill) Ball said, ‘We laid an egg today. Don’t expect that again from us.'”
Caledonia boys 49, Columbus Christian Academy 31, Friday
The run that gave the Caledonia boys team a 49-31 win over Columbus Christian Academy on Friday happened early and didn’t take long.
The Confederates jumped out to a 16-0 lead just a few minutes into the first quarter, and Caledonia looked comfortable from there.
‘Feds senior Cooper McCleskey did half the damage himself, scoring the final eight points of the run with a 3-pointer, an old-fashioned three-point play and a layup.
“He got hot for a second, and he started making baskets, and everything was going for him for a minute,” Caledonia coach Gary Griffin said.
McCleskey, who scored 17 points total, had 12 points in the first quarter alone in Caledonia’s victory. The senior, who was named the game’s most valuable player, led a 24-point scoring effort for the ‘Feds in that opening period, and a 15-point lead at the quarter’s end was enough cushion to keep Caledonia afloat.
Columbus Christian, to its credit, fought back a bit. The Rams kept the deficit manageable, threatening multiple times to break into single digits.
“I thought we came in and gave a lot of effort,” Columbus Christian coach Jason Williams said.
Williams pointed to his team’s fresh legs — the Rams hadn’t played for a full week — as part of the reason for that effort, which was considerable even without star senior Lawson Studdard. Jonathan Peal scored 13 points to lead the team, and Caleb Cook added seven.
But even when the Rams inched a bit closer, the ‘Feds made sure to turn them away.
At one point, Griffin took a timeout to stanch the bleeding after a Rams mini-run.
“Any time a team gets a little momentum, you’ve gotta try to stop it some type of way,” he said. “I just felt like our guys weren’t playing defense, leaking out, weren’t rebounding the basketball, so I had to call timeout to get them back in line and let them know what they had to do to get a win tonight.”
Caledonia still achieved that goal, though Griffin wasn’t overly pleased with the team’s performance after that big opening run.
“We started out with a lot of energy, and then we kind of played lackadaisical and let them get out and get some momentum and score a few baskets,” Griffin said. “It was hard to stop their momentum.”
On the opposite sideline, Williams was disappointed with the loss, but still happy to see the fight Columbus Christian put up.
“I was proud of our guys because we competed,” Williams said. “We played hard. If we keep doing that, things are gonna look up for us. I’m proud of them.”
Heritage Academy girls 47, Columbus Christian Academy 28, Friday
On Thursday, a day before the Heritage Academy girls team had its tournament matchup with Columbus Christian Academy, a majority of the Patriots convened in their home gym to shoot around.
Heritage Academy hadn’t played a game in nearly a week, and the team was in need of some practice time.
“It was a good thing that we got in the gym, because we’d been off, and we needed to get some shots up,” freshman Lucy Sharp said.
Sharp helped to lead the way as the Patriots reaped the benefits of that impromptu shootaround, beating the Rams 47-28. Sharp dominated in the post, pouring in 16 points to lead all scorers by relying on more than just her size.
“I definitely had a height advantage, and it really helped because you can get around them, and it’s just easier to be open,” Sharp said. “You still have to be vocal, and just having a height advantage doesn’t always mean you can be better than everybody else. You’ve still gotta be hard and be vocal.”
Sharp did that, and the Patriots executed coach Moe Reed’s strategy to find her consistently on the low block.
“She’s a great post player for us,” senior Sydney Adair said. “Any time we can just dump it to her and she does a post move, it’s big for us.”
Adair contributed 13 points of her own for the Patriots and was named the game’s most valuable player. She noted that Heritage Academy tightened up on defense and started making the extra pass in the second half, helping the Pats stretch out a 20-11 halftime lead.
“I think we made some small adjustments that we needed to make, and that’s what made the lead increase, and our defense stepped up,” Adair said.
The Patriots cracked down on defense against a Rams team missing two of its best three players. Senior Kylie Emerson, battling a nagging ankle injury, was held out; sophomore Morgan Whitten is still making her way back from a shoulder injury she suffered Dec. 4, coach Jason Williams said.
Without Emerson and Whitten, Columbus Christian was held to just four points in the first quarter and struggled offensively all night. CC Devos and Taylor Tipton each had eight points for the Rams, and Audrey Foreman was the team’s next-highest scorer with four.
For the Patriots, Friday’s defense-fueled victory was refreshing, but Heritage Academy still knows there are things it can improve on.
“It’s a good win, but we’ve still gotta continue to get better and continue to practice and grow,” Sharp said.
Starkville Academy boys 62, Pickens Academy (Ala.) 43
The Starkville Academy boys beat Pickens Academy (Alabama) 62-43 on Saturday.
Seth Peeks led the Pirates (5-5) with 16 points. Rafe Brown and Travis Dean each scored 10 points.
Pickens Academy will host Clarke Prep on Friday.
Grace Christian School boys 46, Pickens Academy (Ala.) 44, Friday
The Pickens Academy (Alabama) boys team lost to Louisville-based Grace Christian School 46-44 on Friday.
Seth Peeks led the Pirates with 18 points, and Rafe Brown and William Parker each added eight.
Carroll Academy girls 38, Pickens Academy (Ala.) 33
Carleigh Cameron led the way for the Pickens Academy (Alabama) girls with 10 points, but the Pirates lost to Carroll Academy on Saturday, 38-33.
Shelby Lowe added seven points for the Pirates, and Jessi Latham scored six.
Oak Hill Academy girls 42, Kemper Academy 17
Dovie Suggs made an all-around effort to help the Oak Hill Academy girls beat Kemper Academy 42-17 on Saturday.
Suggs scored eight points, grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked two shots and recorded three steals. She was named the game’s most valuable player.
Sara Nash had 10 points to lead the Raiders (6-7) in scoring.
Pickens Academy (Ala.) girls 42, Oak Hill Academy 37, Friday
Kate Wilkins scored 14 points and had seven rebounds to help the Pickens Academy girls beat Oak Hill Academy 42-37 on Friday.
Jessi Latham added eight points and five rebounds for the Pirates, and Shelby Lowe had seven points and 11 rebounds.
For the Raiders, Rachel McLain had 12 points, Dovie Suggs had eight, and Sara Nash had seven.
West Lowndes girls 58, Carroll Academy 38, Friday
Seals led the West Lowndes girls with 15 points in a 58-38 win over Carroll Academy on Friday.
Hood contributed 12, Takora Givens scored nine, and Nenah Young had eight.
The win moved the Panthers to 8-0 before Saturday’s win over Starkville Academy.
Caledonia boys 54, Oak Hill Academy 27
The Caledonia boys beat Oak Hill Academy 54-27 on Saturday to improve to 11-2 on the season.
McCleskey led the way again for the Confederates, scoring 21 points.
Oak Hill fell to 9-2 with the loss.
Heritage Academy girls 51, Caledonia 30
The Heritage Academy girls won Saturday’s rivalry game with Caledonia 51-30.
Sharp scored 18 to lead the Patriots in victory, and senior Bailey Harris added 10 points.
Reagan Merchant scored five points, and Adair had four.
Carroll Academy boys 61, Columbus Christian Academy 37
The Columbus Christian boys lost to Carroll Academy 61-37 on Saturday.
Matthew Phillips led the Rams with 12 points, Will Teague had seven, Jonathan Peal had six, and Dakota Shaw had five.
The Rams (4-4) will host district opponent Newton Academy on Jan. 7.
Winston Academy girls 31, Columbus Christian Academy 28
The Columbus Christian Academy girls team fell just short Saturday against Winston Academy in a 31-28 loss.
A second quarter in which the Rams (3-5) were outscored 16-1 proved to be too much, though Columbus Christian nearly caught up in the fourth quarter.
Audrey Foreman led the Rams with 16 points, and Taylor Tipton scored four.
Oak Hill Academy boys 50, Kemper Academy 32, Friday
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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