By Robert Wilson
Photos by Hays Collins
The Leake Academy girls won their 65th consecutive home game Friday night in the MAIS Overall Tournament quarterfinals and completed their fourth straight undefeated season at home.
Monday afternoon, Leake traveled to their second home – Mississippi College in Clinton – where it has been more times than most of the other girls teams in the MAIS and won dozens of games in the Overall, including six championships.
Defending MAIS Overall champion Leake took care of business like it was playing on its home court in Madden with a 52-49 victory over Hartfield Academy in the Overall semifinals and in a rematch of last year’s Overall championship game.
Class 5A state champion Leake improved to 37-3 and meets Class 6A state champion Jackson Prep, 36-2, Wednesday at 6 p.m. for the Overall championship. Leake will trying for its seventh Overall girls title in school history. Only two schools – Jackson Academy and Pillow Academy – have seven girls Overall titles. Leake hasn’t won back-to-back Overall titles since 1986-87 under Mississippi’s winning girls coach, Doyle Wolverton. Prep, which defeated Bowling Green, La. 41-36 in Monday’s other semifinal, won its first 15 games this season before losing at Leake 61-37 Dec. 11 in Madden. Leake defeated Prep 72-60 in the Overall quarterfinals last season in Madden. Leake is the only team to score more than 46 points this season and the 72 points in the Overall quarterfinals was more than any team had scored on Prep last season. Prep will be trying for its first Overall girls title since 2006 and fifth Overall girls title in school history (Prep won fourth straight from 1979-1982).
Hartfield, the 6A runner-up, finished 28-7 and lost to Leake fo the second time in as many meetings. Leake rallied for a 14-point deficit in the first half to win 57-54 at Hartfield. It is also the third consecutive game Hartfield has lost to Leake by three points. Last year’s Overall final was also three points, 39-36, at Hartfield.
After Hartfield jumped out to a 4-0 lead, Leake finally scored after 2 minutes, 43 seconds on back-to-back 3-pointers by Morgan Freeny – Saturday’s hero with a game-winning shot with 0.4 seconds to play – and Emeri Warren. Leake went on an 8-2 run to lead 14-9 after one quarter and Hartfield never led again. Leake led 24-15 at halftime and 46-34 after three quarters.
“We got out to an early lead, and for the most part, stayed in control the rest of the game,” Leake coach Amanda Hatch said. “We were able to contain their drivers and contest their shooters. Even though our post defense and help were great, (Hartfield’s Nyla) Hooten made some nice moves and shots. I was proud of how we protected the ball and knocked down clutch free throws late. We came up with big defensive rebounds in the fourth quarter as well. I’m really proud of our effort and execution today.”
Leake junior guard Miriam Prince had a game-high 19 points and 11 rebounds. Freeny, also a junior, had 12 points. Sophomore Katye Jones had nine points and 11 rebounds.
“Coach Hatch always does great film study and preparation for us,” Prince said. “We always have a plan and it’s up to us to execute. We got down 4-0 but we hit two threes and relaxed. I knew Hartfield watched the PCS film and we knew Katye would need to be big. As a sophomore playing in her first major Overall action, she stepped up early and when they helped on our dribble drive, she made baskets and drew fouls. People want to clog the lane and we can score inside or out, which makes for an excellent team and one reason we get a chance to repeat at Overall champions.”
“We had too many turnovers in the first half and they capitalized, scoring 14 points off our turnovers,” Hartfield coach Benton Ingram said. “That and giving up too many offensive rebounds put us in a tough position at halftime. It’s difficult to overcome those mistakes against good teams, but I’m very porud of how our girls fought back in the third quarter to give us a chance.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t finish the way we wanted, but these girls overcame more than people know to accomplish what they did this season.”
Hooten, a sophomore, had 13 points. Senior Ann Maris Ragan had eight points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Ingram is stepping down as Hartfield’s coach now to concentrate on his position as Student Life Director where he directs Hartfield’s mission trips, chapels, class retreats, disciplineship groups, etc. and will be expanding his responsibilities next year.
Ingram had an 89-21 record – a winning percentage of 80.9 percent – in his three seasons.
Ingram’s successor will have plenty to work with. Four starters return – Ragan is the only senior starter – and Hartfield should one of the contenders for the 6A state and Overall titles next season.