Photo by Brandon Jackson

By Robert Wilson
Photos by Brandon Jackson

       MADISON – The defending MAIS Overall Tournament and Class 6A state champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy girls came into Friday’s Class 6A state semifinal game with Jackson Academy with a 32-2 record – one of the best records in school history – and riding a 10-game winning streak.

       Once again, like so many times this season, the Lady Patriots got off to a slow start, then turned it on the second half for a 40-31 victory before an estimated 1,000 at MRA’s Duease Hall.

       MRA freshman point guard Anna Morgan Anderson – who scored only two points (on two free throws) in the first half – led the second-half charge with 16 points.

       “(MRA) Coach (Stephen) Force talked to us at half about being leaders, making adjustments,” Anderson said. “He went over stats with us and told us areas to improve on. The starters took what he said to heart.”

       No. 1 seed MRA only led No. 4 seed JA 13-12 at halftime, but when on a 10-0 run to open the third quarter (a three-point play by Anderson 20 seconds into the quarter to start the run) and held JA without a field goal for the first 4 ½ minutes of the second half.

       JA never recovered.

       MRA, now 33-2, meets No. 3 seed Jackson Prep for the 6A state title Saturday at 2:15 p.m. at MRA. Prep defeated No. 2 seed Presbyterian Christian School 41-36 in the other semifinal. MRA defeated Prep in both regular season meetings, 27-22 January 23 at MRA and 39-36 Feb. 9 at Prep. Both teams advance to next week’s Overall Tournament at Mississippi College in Clinton. MRA and Prep have won the last two 6A and Overall state titles.

       JA dropped to 15-17 and lost to MRA for the third time this season after losing 56-35 Jan. 17 at JA and 46-39 Feb. 1 at MRA. JA and PCS will play Saturday at 1 p.m. for third place. The winner goes to next week’s Overall tournament. The loser ends its season.

       Force had seen slow start, fast finish pattern many times before Friday this season.

       “We were not being aggressive, and we had turnovers that were not really forced. We were outrebounded 19-12 in the first half and that tells you right there we were not being aggressive,” said MRA coach Stephen Force, who has 743 career wins in his 28 seasons, 601 wins and three Overall titles in 22 seasons at MRA. “It was just from being a young team and being tight. It got in their head a little bit about not losing. We had been talking all week about it, not to lose but play to win. We were definitely the hunted, not the hunters, in the first half. 

       “Fortunately, we got things straightened out in the second half. We turned it up a notch in the second half defensively. I think JA turned the ball over five of the first six possessions. We had some steals and I think they gave it to us a couple of times. We were more aggressive defensively and offensively in the second half. I hate to say it, but we do play better in the second half. But we’ve got to come out and play hard in the first half, especially now because you are going to run into someone sooner or later that you can’t dig out of that hole.” 

       Anderson made 6 of 11 shots from the field and 5 of 5 shots from the free throw line. Senior Caroline Redding had 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting from the field. Sophomore Annie Toler had eight points on 3 of 5 shooting from the field.

       JA was led by sophomore Aubrey Chambers with seven points and senior Harper Griffin and sophomore Ella King with six points each.

       JA coach Jan Sojourner – the second winningest active girls basketball coach in Mississippi and the third winningest in Mississippi history – was denied her 1,034th career win. She has won 931 games, a MAIS record six Overall Tournament championships and 10 state titles in her 39 years at JA. She also has 102 wins in five seasons at Canton Academy.

       “It is the story of our season,” Sojourner said. “We can hang with anybody for a while, but we always seem to have one bad quarter that kills us. Finishing games has been hard for us this season.”

       JA’s top player, 6-foot sophomore Gracelyn Carmichael, has been out for about a month with a foot injury, but returned for the first time Tuesday against Hartfield and had 13 points and 11 rebounds in 18 minutes in a 46-35 win. She had 3 points and 2 rebounds in 18 minutes Friday against MRA and still isn’t back full speed.


       No. 3 seed Prep outscored No. 2 seed PCS 16-7 in the fourth quarter and went 6 for 6 from the free throw line in the final 37 seconds for its 6A state semifinal win.

       Prep improved to 21-12 and bounced back from a 60-36 loss to PCS Feb. 6 in Hattiesburg. Prep meets No. 1 seed MRA, 33-2, for the 6A state title Saturday at 2:15 p.m. Both teams advance to next week’s Overall tournament. PCS dropped to 24-9 and meets JA, 15-17, for third place Saturday at 1 p.m. The winner advances to next week’s Overall tournament. The loser ends its season.

       Prep led 24-19 at halftime before PCS outscored Prep 10-1 in the third quarter to take a 29-25 lead. But Prep regained the momentum and finished with the win.

       “It was a great effort on our girls part,” said Prep coach Michael McAnally, who has won 635 games (422 girls and 213 boys), and four state titles, two Overall titles and two Overall runner-up finishes in 23 seasons, the last 10 at Prep. “We knew we had to tweak the way we defended PCS with all of their shooters, and I thought our girls did a great job following the game plan. They punched us in the mouth pretty good at their place last week. Our girls really stepped up to the challenge and I couldn’t be prouder of their performance.”

       Sophomore Meg Barbour led Prep with 11 points and eight rebounds. Junior Taylor Caton, a Memphis commitment in softball, had nine points. Junior Ann Magee Stradinger had seven points, junior Claire Crosby had six points and sophomore Torrey Polk had 6 points, 4 four assists and 4 steals.