JACKSON — Over and over, the shots went up as 10 white and blue jerseys convened haphazardly at the rim.
Again and again, the basketball refused to go down. Shot attempts went awry off the back iron, off the front of the rim, off the side — anywhere but in the net.
Finally, after scoring chance after scoring chance for the West Lowndes girls basketball team in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s MHSAA Class 1A championship game, the ball was deflected out of bounds to opposing Ingomar.
Instead of cutting a three-point Falcons lead to one, West Lowndes jogged back down the court with 4 minutes, 46 seconds to go. Twenty-seven seconds later, Ingomar’s Katie Beth Hall made a dagger of a 3-pointer from the right wing.
“Things just didn’t fall the way we wanted them to fall,” Panthers coach Takeea Bozeman said.
Ultimately, it cost West Lowndes (19-6) a chance at its second-ever state title in a 55-51 loss to Ingomar (23-9) at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
“They didn’t give up,” Bozeman said. “We were competitive.”
It was a marked improvement from last season, in which the Panthers brought an undefeated record to the Big House only to be routed in the semifinals by eventual champion Pine Grove. A year later, a seasoned West Lowndes team starting five seniors beat Biggersville 44-40 in Monday’s semifinal.
But the Panthers’ run ended there as they stood in a row on the free-throw line and watched Ingomar hoist the championship trophy for the 11th time in school history and the first time since 2018.
It was a surprisingly fast title for a Falcons team that didn’t start a single senior Thursday and had just one on the roster, Ingomar coach Trent Adair said.
“We were hopeful, but I did not expect it this soon,” he said. “If you’d asked me a month ago, I thought we would have been done two weeks ago.”
But eighth-grader Macie Phifer set out to prove the Falcons were already capable of great things. Phifer, who just turned 14, had a game-high 29 points and added 13 rebounds to lead Ingomar.
“She’s obviously pretty vital,” said Adair in somewhat of an understatement. “She’s nowhere near her ceiling yet.”
With 10 seconds to go and the Falcons up two points, Phifer was the recipient of a play drawn up by Ingomar assistant Katherine Downing. The eighth-grader sprinted down the court to catch a long inbounds pass and lay it in, catching the Panthers by surprise as the clock ran out and the Falcons bench mobbed Phifer and her teammates.
It was perhaps the only time West Lowndes didn’t have an answer for any Ingomar offensive Thursday. The Panthers kept the game close time and time again when the Falcons threatened to blow it open, including coming back from a 20-8 deficit early in the second quarter.
It took nearly 15 minutes, but West Lowndes senior Tydajasha Hood sank a pair of free throws with 37 seconds left to tie the game at 40-40. Bozeman said Hood, who had 22 points and sank several clutch baskets, played one of her best games in her final time suiting up for the Panthers.
“She put forth what she’s been working on all season,” Bozeman said. “She was able to put it all out there on the floor and be productive.”
But as the two teams headed into the final eight minutes of a tied contest, Ingomar wasn’t deterred.
“What more could you want?” Adair and his assistants told the Falcons in the short interlude. “It’s 40-40. We’re in the fourth quarter of a state championship game. You’ve got a shot to win the game. Go win the game.”
Ingomar did. After Phifer buried a go-ahead 3-pointer from the top of the key with 5:02 to go, Hood was fouled with 4:46 to go. She missed both free throws, but West Lowndes rebounded the second. The Panthers tried shot after shot from close range but couldn’t connect before losing the ball out of bounds, and Hall’s triple put the Falcons up six.
“She’s a shooter,” Adair said. “There’s no other way to say it: That’s a shooter right there.”
West Lowndes got the lead down to two points on a banked-in 3 by Averi Sanders with 19 seconds to go, but it was too little, too late. After the Panthers tried to force a turnover, the Falcons hurled the basketball downcourt to Phifer, who beat a West Lowndes defender for the game’s final score.
“It’s just so fulfilling because we’ve worked hard all season, and it paid off,” Hall said.
Ultimately, West Lowndes came up just five points short of its first state title since 2004, the last time the school reached the championship game. Even though Thursday didn’t end in jubilation for the Panthers, Bozeman said she was proud of an excellent season.
“Some you win, some you lose, but I’m still proud of them,” Bozeman said.
Class 1A boys championship: Biggersville 47, Ingomar 46
Class 4A girls championship: Pontotoc 55, Choctaw Central 52
Class 4A boys championship: Lanier 64, Raymond 48
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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