Photo by Robert Smith

By Robert Wilson

The Leake Academy girls basketball team was able to keep its unbeaten record intact and even set a Mississippi record for four consecutive games with leading scorer Miriam Prince – considered the best scorer in the MAIS – on the bench resting an injury.

But a trip to one of the toughest places to play in the Mississippi – Pillow Academy in Greenwood – was too much for Leake, which was also missing junior starting forward and leading rebounder Katye Jones (out due to sickness).

Pillow and coach Durwin Carpenter – the second winningest active girls basketball coach in the country – gave Leake its first loss of the season with a 64-45 victory Thursday night at Pillow’s Stribling gym.

Pillow improved to 5-3 and avenged a 58-35 loss to Leake Nov. 15 at Leake where Leake hasn’t lost since 2017. Leake dropped to 13-1 and had won 33 of its last 35 games before Thursday’s loss. Leake hadn’t lost to since losing to Jackson Prep for the MAIS Overall Tournament championship last season.

Prince and her 19.9 points per game scoring average was on the bench – she needed a rest after playing five games in eight days (Prince had been going nonstop since the season began after recovering from surgery July 13 to repair a fracture in one of her lower legs) – and she missed her fifth consecutive game. Jones is averaging 5.8 points and a team-high 5.2 rebounds.

Pillow took advantage of Prince and Jones’ absence and jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first two minutes. Pillow never trailed and led 13-12 after one quarter, 30-18 at halftime and 43-23 after three quarters. Pillow’s biggest lead was 20 points, 43-23, midway through the third quarter.

Carpenter won his 1,133rd game Thursday in 49 seasons, 357 wins in 20 seasons at Central Holmes Academy and 776 wins in the last 29 seasons at Pillow. He has won 10 state titles and four Overall championships. Carpenter is second in Mississippi history in girls basketball wins behind Doyle Wolverton, who 1,249 games from 1975-2014 at Leake.

“I was very proud of the girls and how hard they played,” Carpenter said. “Leake shoots the ball extremely well and we did a good job defending most of the game.”

The Howard twins, juniors Elise and Avery, led the way for Pillow. Elise had 21 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 assists. Avery had 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocked shots, 3 assists and took 3 charges. Sophomore Alanna Hodo had 11 points, 4 steals and 3 rebounds.

Leake, without Prince, set a Mississippi record with 20 3-pointers in an 87-40 victory over Memphis St. Agnes Academy last week at Holiday Shootout at Marshall Academy in Holly Springs. Leake broke the Mississippi record held by Pontotoc High, which made 17 3-pointers against H.W. Byers Nov. 21, 2013, according to the national high school record book.

Leake – which was averaging 69 points in its last seven games, including a season-high 87 against St. Agnes – couldn’t get much offense going against Pillow.

“Pillow really just outplayed us tonight,” Leake coach Amanda Hatch said. “We were a little out of sync offensively. They were able to create turnovers early and turn those into points. We also gave up way too many offensive rebounds and putbacks. That allowed them to build the lead going into halftime. I really love the effort we played with in the second half. We played hard enough to win, just not quite well enough. Pillow played four complete quarters, so they deserve a lot of credit today.”

Senior guard Morgan Freeny led Leake with 20 points and senior forward Emeri Warren had 11 points.

Pillow ended Leake’s quest for an undefeated season for the second consecutive year. Leake came to Pillow a year ago as the defending Overall champion and had won 39 consecutive games and had a 12-0 record before Pillow ended the streak with a 70-65 victory.

Pillow, which holds the Mississippi record with 100 consecutive victories from 1971-74, doesn’t lose much at home. In fact, Leake defeated Pillow 63-58 in the 2021 MAIS Class 4A North Division championship to end Pillow’s 36-game home winning streak when Leake’s Miriam Prince scored 27 points and Pillow’s top player, Kaylee Jones, went down with a season-ending knee injury midway the second quarter.

Only one MAIS team has gone undefeated since Hatch was a junior in high school at Leake and went 46-0 during the 1998-99 season. That team won 63 games in a row. Starkville Academy, coached by Glenn Schmidt, finished 43-0 in 2013 and is considered possibly the best girls basketball team in MAIS history. Schmidt led Starkville to 53 consecutive victories from 2012-2013.