Photo by Hays Collins

By Robert Wilson
Photos by Brad Bridges and Hays Collins

       CLINTON – Fourteen years ago to the day, senior guard Brooke Rhodes scored 35 points to lead the East Rankin Academy girls basketball team to their first MAIS Overall championship.

       Flash forward to Wednesday night, Rhodes, instead of wearing a white No. 23 jersey, wore pink high heels, black pants and a black jacket, and coached her alma mater to its second Overall championship in school history.

       Senior guard Addison Brown made a layup with 15 seconds to play as East Rankin defeated defending Overall champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy 41-39 before an estimated 2,500 here at Mississippi College’s A.E. Wood Coliseum/Mike Jones Court.

       Class 5A runner-up East Rankin finished 39-8 and broke Rhodes’ record of 35 victories when she was a senior in 2010. Class 6A runner-up MRA finished 36-4.

       Rhodes become the third in MAIS history to win a girls Overall title as a player and coach. Amy Carroll Denley did it for Kirk Academy in 1988 as player and won Overall for her alma mater as a coach in 2018 and Amanda Gulley Hatch did it as a player at Leake Academy in 1999 and for her alma mater as a coach in 2021.

       Rhodes was one of the best outside shooters in MAIS history. She scored a school record 2,568 points in her high school career and played at Delta State and Southern Miss and was an assistant coach at Central Arkansas, Jones College, Presbyterian College, and Western Carolina for a combined six years before deciding to come home.

       “It is so much more fun I think as a coach because I am so proud of those girls,” Rhodes said. “They are the best kids in the world, and I felt like they deserved this moment so much. It’s so cool to have won it as a player and be back at East Rankin and do it as a coach because ERA is so special to me and my family.”

       Rhodes’ dad, Keith, was on the sidelines with her all three seasons as an assistant. Her grandfather, Billy Rhodes and a longtime coach at East Rankin, has the gym named after him.

       “My Papa was here at the game and crying at the end the whole time,” Brooke Rhodes said. “It means so much because my dad has meant so much in my basketball career from being a player to now coaching. It’s really special because it means just as much to him as it does to me.”

       East Rankin’s 6-foot-2 freshman center Liz Stevens – who scored 11 points, had nine rebounds, and two blocked shots – made a layup for a 39-38 East Rankin lead with 2 minutes, 48 seconds to go. MRA freshman guard Anna Morgan Anderson – Stevens’ teammate on the AAU team Mississippi Jazz – made one free throw for a 39-39 tie with 1:40 to play. Both teams had chances to take the lead but either made turnovers and missed shots in the last minute.  Stevens got a steal with 56 seconds to play set up the winning layup by Brown.

       “I told them we were going to run the set we talked about for a layup and Addison was patient and got just that,” Rhodes said. “I think that just showed some of her senior tendencies to go make the big play we needed.”

       “The plan was to run a play for a layup,” said Brown, who made 4 of 5 shots from the field, 2 of 2 from 3-point range and 2 of 4 from the free throw line. “Liz passed me the ball and I recognized the open lane to the goal. I believed I could do it, so I went for it. I am incredibly honored to be in this position. I couldn’t have it without Coach Rhodes, my team, and the best fans ever. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to my senior year. All glory to God.”

       But MRA had a chance to tie or win but missed a 3-pointer from the left wing with 4 seconds to play. Stevens grabbed the rebound and ran out the clock. 

       “We talked about not giving up 3s, but we ended up still giving up one up but at least it was a contested one and we secured the defensive rebound out of it,” Rhodes said. “MRA is such a good team and tradition rich program and (MRA) Coach (Stephen) Force is a legend coach and so to be able to be on the same floor with them is so humbling.”

       Junior guard Presley Thompson was a warrior on East Rankin. She got hit above her eyebrow running into a screen midway through the third quarter and had to leave the game. After the trainers stopped the bleeding and put on a bandage above her left eyebrow, she returned to the game. Thompson finished with 9 points, a team-high 4 assists and a team-high 4 steals. She made two free throws and took a charge in the fourth quarter.

       “Presley did a really good job of getting us in our offense and also a great job defending,” Rhodes said. “She also pushed through after she cut her face and really played tough, and I was really proud of that.”

       Force was one shot away from his fourth Overall girls title, which would have tied him with Pillow Academy’s Durwin Carpenter for fourth in MAIS history. Only Jackson Academy’s Jan Sojourner (six) and Leake Academy’s Doyle Wolverton (five) and Carpenter (four) have more.

       “Give Brooke and her team credit. They outplayed us and deserved to win,” said Force, who has 746 career wins in his 28 seasons, 606 wins in 22 seasons at MRA. “The moment wasn’t too big for her girls. They played hard and made the shots when it counted.” 

       Anderson led MRA with 10 points and three steals. Junior guard Allie Redding, who missed most of January with a high ankle sprain, had nine points and seven rebounds. Sophomore guard Presley Hughes had a game-high five assists.

       “We had a great season, but we didn’t win a championship,” said Force, whose team also lost to Jackson Prep for the 6A state title. “But our girls did what I asked them to do this season and it was a success. We had a lot of young experience back and some older players who didn’t play a lot last year. They stepped into those roles and did a great job. You don’t win 36 games and lose only four and not do a lot of things right.”