By Robert Wilson
The mystique of Leake Academy’s Joe Shepherd gym with dozens of state and Overall championship banners hanging from both ends of the court and the Hoosiers-like feel with fans screaming for the home team on both side of the court can be intimidating.
Add to it, Leake’s girls coming out with aggressive defense, intense determination and accurate shooting can overwhelm even the best team.
Jackson Prep came into the tiny Madden community Saturday afternoon with a 15-0 record with hopes to end Leake’s four-year home winning streak. It didn’t happen. Not even close.
Defending MAIS Overall Tournament champion Leake scored the first game’s first eight points, never trailed, led by as much as 27 points and defeated Prep 61-37 to win its 59th consecutive home game.
Leake improved to 15-1 and won for the 41st time in the last 42 games. Leake had its 39-game winning streak broken last week by Pillow in Greenwood and before that had not lost since a 59-49 decision at Prep last December. Leake hasn’t lost at home since Nov. 16, 2017 to Kirk. Prep dropped to 15-1 and lost for the first time since a 72-60 decision at Leake in the Overall quarterfinals to end its season.
“We came out great. Lots of intensity,” Leake coach Amanda Hatch said. “For us, the focus is always defense. And when our defense is clicking, we can turn that into flowing offense. Great defensive rebounding lets us transition and Miriam (Prince) and the others are really good at that and she find the open players. Good defensive stops early gave us easier opportunities to score. We got some good looks early.
“This gym is a fun environment. People come out, even on a cold and rainy Saturday. The kids come out and support us. We have a lot of energy in here for games like this and I’m grateful for all the support.”
Hatch improved her record to 262-29, a 90 percent winning percentage, in eight seasons. Hatch replaced Doyle Wolverton, the winning girls basketball coach in Mississippi history, who won 1,249 games from 1975-2014 and now has the court at Leake named after him.
Leake made 11 of 25 3-pointers, 44 percent, and had multiple 3-pointers from four different players. Prince, a junior guard and Leake’s leading scorer, had a game-high 21 points, four 3-pointers. Junior Emeri Warren had 15 points, three 3-pointers, and junior Morgan Freeny had 11 points, two 3-pointers. Junior Grace Maxey made two 3-pointers.
Prep’s leading scorer, senior point guard and Alabama-Huntsville signee Andie Flatgard, came into averaging 18 points per game and led Mississippi with 40 3-pointers this season. Flatgard scored 4 points in the first quarter and none in the second and third quarters. Flatgard scored 12 in the fourth quarter to finish with 16, but Leake led comfortably going into the fourth quarter. Leake held Flatgard without a 3-pointer.
“The plan on Flatgard was to let Miriam hard deny her all over the court,” Hatch said. “When she gave the ball up, try not to let her have it back. We were going to trap her on the ball screens, we were going to hedge any other screens for her. It was a good team effort on her. We even switched on her and when we switched the other girls had better guard her the same way. We executed that plan very well.”
“Playing Andie is always such as a challenge. She’s such a skilled player and shooter,” Prince said. “My teammates were on fire tonight and Coach Hatch always has us prepared defensively. Playing at home, especially against Prep, makes it a playoff feel.”
After getting off to the 8-0 start, Leake led 13-6 after one quarter, 27-17 at half and 43-21 after three quarters. Prep got within 6 in the second quarter but couldn’t get closer. Leake scored the first 8 points of the third quarter to stretch the lead to 16 and Prep never recovered. Leake’s biggest lead was 27 points in the fourth quarter.
“I thought Leake was terrific tonight, as they typically are,” Prep coach Michael McAnally said. “Defensively, they did a good job of extending us and being disruptive. I thought we got some decent looks but just didn’t shoot the ball tonight. The 3-point line was the difference. They were plus 30 points there and that was the story of the game. You can’t go to Leake and go 1-for-16 from behind the arc and expect to win. But give Leake credit for that. Their effort and intensity was at a higher level than ours tonight. We have a good team and I feel certain that we will respond to tonight’s adversity.”
Prep was chasing history, trying to become the first undefeated MAIS girls team since Starkville Academy, coached by Glenn Schmidt, had a 43-0 record in the 2013-2014 season. One other MAIS girls team – the Brookhaven Academy team coached by Barry Gray – went undefeated since Hatch was a junior and Leake went 46-0 in the 1998-1999 season. Brookhaven Academy went 43-0 in the 2003-2004 season.