By Robert Wilson
Leake Academy and Jackson Academy – two of the most tradition rich high school girls basketball programs in Mississippi – met Tuesday night and continued the same pattern the two teams had followed so far this season.
And Leake senior point guard Miriam Prince – one of the best scorers in Mississippi – continued her torrid pace of averaging a point per minute this season.
Prince scored 26 points in 26 minutes and led Leake to a 51-32 victory over JA at JA’s Raiderdome in Northeast Jackson.
Leake improved to 5-0 and has won every game by at least 13 points. JA, meanwhile, dropped to 0-3, a rarity if not a first for coach Jan Sojourner in 38 seasons at JA.
Prince came in averaging 20.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 steals and 2.5 assists in 20 minutes per game. She scored 14 points Tuesday in the first half and finished by scoring five consecutive points before leaving with 2 minutes, 53 seconds to play with Leake ahead 51-30. Prince also had a career-high 11 steals, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocked shots. She was coming off a big game against Copiah where she had 24 points, a career-high 13 rebounds, 6 steals and 4 assists.
Tuesday’s game was also a matchup of two of the most successful girls basketball coaches in Mississippi history.
Sojourner became the third girls basketball coach in Mississippi history to win 1,000 games last season. She now has 1,009 wins in 43 seasons. Sojourner has 907 wins and a MAIS record six Overall Tournament championships at JA.
Doyle Wolverton is the winningest coach in Mississippi history with 1,249 wins from 1975-2014 at Leake Academy. Durwin Carpenter is second with 1,130 wins in his 49 seasons, 20 seasons at Central Holmes Academy and the last 29 at Pillow Academy.
Leake’s Amanda Hatch has a 289-32 record – an amazing 90 percent winning percentage – in her ninth season at Leake and has 404 career wins in her 14th season as a head coach. She has taken Leake to the Overall title game four of the past five seasons, winning it in 2021.
“Coach Sojourner does a great job and any time you can come to JA and go home with a win, you’ve accomplished something,” Hatch said. “We didn’t shoot a high percentage, but our great defense turned into offense. I’m proud of our girls for competing at a really high level against a physical team on the road.”
Sojourner had aorta valve replacement heart surgery Aug. 17 and is fully recovered.
“I’m back to 100 percent and ready to go,” Sojourner said. “I’ve been cleared by my doctors and I’m ready to lead these young girls this season and help this team get better. My assistants (Ronnie Rogers and Brittany Ford) have done a great job this summer and fall while I was out having surgery and recovering.”
JA named its basketball court Jan Sojourner Court this summer after the legendary coach. Her signature is on the court right in front of the JA bench.
“I was stunned when the school told me they were going to do this,” Sojourner said. “There are so many people who have touched my heart, spent time and effort, and worked hard for this to be possible. It’s not just me. There are a lot more people who deserve to have their name on the court who have helped build this program. There are the players, assistant coaches, administrators, and parents who are the reasons why this is happening. God has placed many individuals in my path over the years who have invested into this program. It’s an honor to represent them with my name on this court.”
This slow start this season is very unusual for Sojourner, who has had only two losing seasons at JA, the last one was 11-20 in the 2008-2009 season. She has only one returning starter, 6-foot freshman forward Gracelyn Carmichael, and has two starters who hadn’t played a high school game before this season. The other three starters graduated and returning point guard Emily Buchanan decided not to play to concentrate on her tennis career.
JA – which has averaged 29 wins over the past six seasons – will try to win its first game of the season Saturday against Bayou Academy and coach Mollie Blair, who played for Sojourner at JA, in Cleveland.
Only defending Overall champion Jackson Prep has beaten JA by more than 19 points – tonight’s victory margin by Leake – in the past six seasons. Prep defeated JA 44-24 during the regular season last year at Prep.
“We had a lot of young girls and some who have never played before in a high school game,” Sojourner said. “But they are working hard and will continue to improve and hopefully we will start winning some of these games soon. We are a work in progress. I need to realize and understand that. We are getting better. I was pleased with the way we played defensively in the first half. These girls want to get better and are using the talents God has given them. I believe we can compete and battle. We have a lot of upside on this team. We just don’t need to get discouraged and down. I believe they will come out tomorrow ready to practice and work hard.”
The 5-foot-8 Prince also had some offseason health issues. She had surgery July 13 to repair a fracture in one of her lower legs. Prince looked 100 percent Tuesday, scoring from 3-point range, driving the lane for mid-range jumpers, making steals, going for fast-break layups and using her ballhandling and passing skills to get away from the pesky JA defenders. She has worked consistently with her rehab (from Performance Therapy in Philadelphia) to get to this point.
“With Miriam’s ball pressure on defense, combined with our guard denial on the wings and great post defense, we were able to force numerous turnovers,” Hatch said. “Offensively, she did a great job of finishing at the rim, pulling up for mid-range jumpers, and creating 3-pointers for herself and her teammates.”
“Playing against Coach Jan is always awesome,” Prince said. “I love her. She’s always prepared. Her teams play hard and any time you get a W in the Raider Dome, it’s a good night.”
Prince – who was named the MAIS Class 5A Player of the Year – averaged 19.2 points, 4.9 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 0.5 blocked shots and led Leake to a 37-4 record and the MAIS Overall Tournament runner-up finish last season. She shot 53.8 percent from the field, 33.5 percent from 3-point range and 71.6 percent from the free throw line. Prince scored a career-high 40 points against Simpson last season. It was the most points at Leake since Susan Byrd scored 56 in 1989.
Leake’s top seven players return from last year’s team and is the favorite to win the MAIS Class 5A tournament and Overall Tournament this season.
Prince scored 2,167 career points going into this season and has 108 so far this season. If she matches last year’s point total of 787, she will finish with 2,954 career points. That would be put second in Leake history in career points, behind Susan Byrd, who scored 3,187 from 1986-90. Byrd ranks fourth among Mississippians in MAIS history in career scoring. A repeat performance this year by Prince in points would put her sixth in MAIS career points behind Teresa Hayman, who scored 3,006 points for Mississippi Baptist from 1979-1983 and is fifth.
“The sky is the limit for Miriam,” Hatch said. “She has the ball handling skills, scoring ability, court vision, defensive awareness, understanding of the game, and incredible work ethic that will really make her a great college player at one of the highest levels. Because of the time spends in the gym and the quality of work she puts in; Miriam has greatly improved each season.”
Leake, which plays at Madison St. Joseph Thursday, has played all five of its games on the road. Leake will play its first seven games on the road before its first home against Pillow next Tuesday. Leake has won 65 consecutive home games, dating back to Nov. 16, 2017, against Kirk Academy. Presbyterian Christian almost ended the streak last season in the Overall Tournament quarterfinals before Leake’s Morgan Freeny made a layup with 0.4 seconds to play for a 31-30 victory.
Freeny added 10 points Tuesday in the win. Marleigh Myers, a 5-11 sophomore forward, had 7 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 1 blocked shot off the bench.
JA was led by 5-1 junior Eliza Hawkins with 10 points and three steals.