By Robert Wilson

       If there was any doubt that Leake Academy’s Miriam Prince is one of the best shooters in Mississippi, consider this:

       The 5-foot-8 senior point guard, who hadn’t played a game in two and half months, scored 18 points in the first half Thursday afternoon against Lamar School and made all seven of her field goal attempts, including four of four from 3-point range.

She finished with a game-high 26 points on 10 of 12 shooting from the field, 5 of 7 from 3-point range, and 1 of 2 from the free throw and led Leake to a 66-56 victory in the MAIS Class 5A, District 2 semifinals at East Rankin Academy in Pelahatchie.

Prince made first nine shots and had 26 points midway through the third quarter. She started and played the majority of the game, sitting out about one or two minutes each quarter.

Prince last played in a game Nov. 15 against Pillow. She missed 22 consecutive games after complications from her surgery last summer and after needing to rest after playing five games in eight days. She continued to have pain in her left leg for the past several months and was unsure if she would play again this season. Prince had a steriod shot last week and it helped with the pain in her left leg, which had a rod placed in it from her knee to ankle in surgery last summer. Prince had surgery July 13 to repair a fracture in one of her lower left leg.

Prince, last year’s MAIS Class 5A Player of the Year, was averaging 19.9 points in her first eight games this season before sitting out for the past two and a half months.

“Miriam had a phenomenal offensive showing in her first game back,” Leake coach Amanda Hatch said. “She shot the ball exceptionally well, handled the ball beautifully, and created open looks for her teammates.”

“Miriam had weeks of physical therapy, custom insoles, a steroid injection in the ankle joint, and a community of friends and family that prayed for healing,” said Performance Therapy co-owner and founder Dan Young, who worked closely with Prince during her rehab after surgery.

“I’m thankful to be back out there with my teammates,” Prince said. “It’s been a long, dark tunnel. So thankful for all the people in my community and even opposing teams across the MAIS who offered assistance, texts, calls, kind words and prayers. The Lord heard us and healed my leg. He said, ‘take up your mat and walk.’

“My teammates have played so well and been so strong this season. We just want to finish strong and wrap up this run. We’ve been together a long time and tonight felt right again.

Leake improved to 30-3 and bounced back from its 49-45 loss to Simpson on Jan. 24, which broke Leake’s 70-game and five year home winning streak. Simpson coach Linda Dear had never won at Leake in her 20 seasons at Simpson. Simpson, 25-4 and a 54-42 winner over East Rankin in the other semifinal, has handed Leake two its three losses, also winning 56-51 Jan. 6 at Simpson.

Simpson had struggled with over the two past decades. Simpson had lost 38 of its last 40 games against Leake dating back to the 2006-2007 season. The win at Simpson was the first time to defeat Leake since the 2019-2020 season when Simpson eliminated Leake in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament. Simpson defeated Leake twice that year, the only time Simpson has won in the series since the 2006-2007 season. Simpson was 0-6 against Leake over the past two seasons. It was the first time in a couple of decades Leake had not won the district title.

Leake and Simpson play Saturday at 2:30 p.m. for the district championship (livestreamed on Youtube by Boswell Media Sports and SCA Live). Both teams advance to next week’s North State tournament.

Prince’s teammates – who won 20 of 22 games in her absence – came through to help her Thursday against Lamar. Senior guard Morgan Freeny had 18 points, including eight consecutive free throws without miss in the fourth quarter. Senior guard Emeri Warren had 14 points, including three 3-pointers.

Leake led 12-11 after the first quarter, 33-22 at halftime and 48-40 after three quarters.

“It was great to have the whole team back and healthy for sure,” Hatch said. “We had a great second quarter and were able to get a little bit of separation by halftime. We did a great job of controlling the tempo in the fourth quarter. We made some shots and knocked down some free throws to maintain the lead in the end.”

Sophomore forward Aryah Grace led Lamar with 22 points, 14 in the second half, and made 13 of 13 free throw attempts, and 13 rebounds. Sophomore point guard Blake Hart had 15 points. Junior forward Sarah Dudley Reed had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Lamar, which lost to Leake by one point in overtime in its last regular season meeting, dropped to 18-10. Lamar plays East Rankin Saturday at 1 p.m. in the consolation game at East Rankin. Both teams advance to next week’s North State tournament.

Lamar coach Joe Miller is one of the winningest active girls basketball coaches in Mississippi history with 688 wins, 71 wins in four seasons at Lamar and 612 in 24 seasons at Southeast Lauderdale.

“Prince returned from being injured tonight and she was outstanding,” Miller said. “The rest of their team played well also. I was very proud of Lamar tonight because I thought we played well and hard, but lost to a better team. We are peaking at the right time and will have another opportunity Saturday and next time at North State.”

Miller – who coached Mississippi Players of the Year Monique Horner and Tiawana Pringle at Southeast Lauderdale – feels he has another future star in the 5-11 Grace.

“Aryah has similar talent and is taller,” Miller said. “She averaged more than 18 points and nine rebounds per game as a freshman and more than 19 points and 10 rebounds per game this season. Aryah has played every position for us this year. She is definitely a future star.”