By Robert Wilson

       The Simpson Academy girls have struggled for the past two decades against Leake Academy in basketball, but this season Simpson is the one in control of the series.

       Simpson, led by junior Payton Purvis’ career-high 25 points and nine rebounds, defeated Leake for the third time in three meetings with a 48-36 victory Saturday afternoon for the MAIS Class 5A, District 2 championship at East Rankin Academy in Pelahatchie.

       Simpson improved to 27-4 and Leake dropped to 30-4. Both teams advance to next week’s MAIS North Class 5A State Tournament at Simpson in Mendenhall. The two teams could meet three more times this season, in North State, in the State Tournament at Pillow Academy in Greenwood and in the Overall Tournament at Mississippi College in Clinton.

       Simpson now has a three-game winning streak against team it has struggled with over the two past decades. Simpson had lost 38 of its last 40 games against Leake dating back to the 2006-2007 season. Simpson defeated Leake in the first meeting at Simpson and the first win over Leake since the 2019-2020 season when Simpson eliminated Leake in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament. Simpson defeated Leake twice that year, the only time Simpson has won in the series since the 2006-2007 season. Simpson was 0-6 against Leake over the past two seasons.

       Simpson has owned Leake this year, even ending Leake’s 70-game home winning streak Jan. 24 with a 49-45 victory, the first time Leake had lost at home in five seasons and the first time Simpson coach Linda Dear had defeated Leake at home in her 20 seasons as Simpson’s coach.

Even with the return of 2022 MAIS Class 5A Player of the Year, Leake senior guard Miriam Prince, Simpson still came out on top. Prince was playing in her second game in three days after not playing for two and half months and 22 consecutive games. Prince last played in a game Nov. 15 against Pillow. She missed after complications from her surgery last summer and after needing to rest after playing five games in eight days. She continued to have pain in her left leg for the past several months and was unsure if she would play again this season. Prince had a steriod shot last week and it helped with the pain in her left leg, which had a rod placed in it from her knee to ankle in surgery last summer. Prince had surgery July 13 to repair a fracture in one of her lower left leg.

Prince scored 26 points on 10 of 12 shooting from the field and made 5 of 7 from 3-point range Thursday in a win over Lamar School, but Simpson’s man to man defense limited Prince to only 11 points Saturday. Prince scored a career-high 40 points against Simpson last season.

While Prince was the star in her return Thursday, Purvis was the star Saturday. The 5-foot-6 left-hander scored 11 points in the third quarter as Simpson expanded its 24-22 halftime lead to 38-30 after three quarters. Purvis had 18 points in the second half and scored all but seven of Simpson’s points in the final two quarters. Simpson also held Leake scoreless for the first six and half minutes of the fourth quarter before Prince made a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 45-33. Not only did Purvis led Simpson in scoring and rebounding, she guarded Prince and kept her from controlling the game like she did Thursday against Lamar.

       “It was a great team effort – a great team win,” said Dear, who has won 602 games and four state titles – all at Simpson – in 37 seasons, 20 years at Simpson, 13 at Brandon High, three at Union Academy and one at Rankin Academy. “I knew they were locked in and ready to play when I got to the gym this morning. We had a shoot around at 11:15 and when I got to the gym at 10:40 Olivia Banes was already shooting, and Maddie Craft pulled up with me. Everybody was there early, and everybody was locked in. We wanted to prove that we could beat Leake with Prince playing. I can’t say enough about the amazing job that Payton Purvis did defending Prince. I was so proud of her. This is a special team and I’m blessed to be their coach.”

       “Going into the game, I was excited but nervous to go against Miriam, she’s a great player,” said Purvis, who came in averaging 10 points this season and is the daughter of former Ole Miss pitcher Jeff Purvis. “I love my team and coaches and all our hard work is starting to pay off. The fans and just the environment was so amazing.”

       Leake led 14-12 after the first quarter, but Simpson went on a run midway through the second quarter and never trailed again. Simpson led by as much as 15 points in the fourth quarter.

       “I did a poor job of getting us ready for this game,” said Hatch, who said Leake coach Amanda Hatch, who has a 314-36 record – an amazing 89.7 percent winning percentage – in her ninth season at Leake and has 429 career wins in her 14th season as a head coach. She has led Leake to the Overall finals each of the last four seasons, winning in 2021. “Purvis had a great night for Simpson, and they really outplayed us.”

       Prince, who was averaging 20.5 points per game, was the only player for Leake in double figures. Senior guard Morgan Freeny had nine points. It was the least number of points Leake had scored all season. The Lady Rebels were averaging 53.6 points per game. It was the least number of points scored by Leake since losing 37-34 to Jackson Prep in the Overall championship game last season.