By Robert Wilson
Madison-Ridgeland Academy girls basketball fans got a peak into the future Monday afternoon in the MAIS Tournament Overall at Mississippi College in Clinton.
And those fans, along with MRA coach Stephen Force, liked what they saw.
With MRA’s talented senior trio of Riley Hancock, Cam Humphries and Ella Wesley Davis having trouble scoring, two underclassmen stepped up and carried the Lady Patriots to a first-half lead and helped MRA to a 58-43 victory over Leake Academy in the Overall semifinals.
Freshmen Presley Hughes and eighth-grader Anna Morgan Anderson combined for 19 points – including a combined four for four from 3-point range – to lead MRA to a 27-18 halftime advantage. The Lady Patriots didn’t lose the lead in the second half.
Class 6A state champion MRA improved to 30-7 and meets 6A state runner-up Presbyterian Christian School, 33-5 and a 35-34 winner over Brookhaven Academy, Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Overall championship game. MRA has beaten PCS in two of the three meetings this season, including a 53-49 win in the 6A state tournament at PCS in Hattiesburg.
Leake, the state runner-up from Class 5A, finished 36-7. Leake defeated MRA 42-25 in the second game of the season. With Monday’s loss to MRA, Leake ended its string of being in the finals four of the past five seasons and also ended a chance of winning its seventh Overall championship.
Leake jumped out to a lead early in the first quarter, but Hughes and Anderson brought MRA back. Hughes – the daughter of Whit Hughes, who played on Mississippi State’s 1996 Final Four team – finished with a career-high 14 points to lead MRA. Davis had 12 points and Anderson and Humphries had 11 each. Humphries, who signed to play beach volleyball at North Florida, also had 10 rebounds.
“We were able to win today because in the first half when my seniors couldn’t score, Presley and Anna Morgan made some big shots,” said Force, who has 712 career wins in 27 seasons, the last 21 at MRA along with two Overall titles (2007 and 2015). “We got great minutes off the bench from Caroline Redding when Riley got into foul trouble. It was nice to see others step up. In the second half, we got it inside a little better. I thought we played pretty good defense on Leake’s shooters.”
Leake – which set a Mississippi record with 20 3-pointers earlier this season – had an off-day shooting, making only 24.1 percent (14 of 58 shots) from the field and 16 percent (4 of 25) from 3-point range.
Leake senior point guard Miriam Prince – who missed 22 games during the season with complications from leg surgery last summer – had a game-high 19 points despite still not being 100 percent. Prince, last year’s Class 5A Player of the Year, finished her brilliant career with 2,468 points, fifth in school history, two points behind her coach, Amanda Hatch, who starred at Leake from 1995-2000.
“I’m so proud of my girls and how we pushed through the season of ups and downs and today, a game of highs and lows,” said Hatch, who has a 321-39 record – an amazing 89.1 percent winning percentage – in her ninth season at Leake and has 436 career wins in her 14th season as a head coach. Hatch has led Leake to four Overall finals in the past five seasons, winning in 2021.
“This team is filled with winners, on and off the court, and that can largely be attributed to our seniors, and their leadership over the years. A huge thank you to my seniors for their dedication to our team and program. I’ve enjoyed them so much. Their desire for success, work ethic, and never-quit attitudes will take them a long way in life. As far as the game, we just didn’t shoot it well enough to beat a great MRA team. Congratulations to them, and best of luck to both teams in the championship game.”