Photo by Brad Bridges

By Robert Wilson

       Simpson Academy coach Linda Dear has been coaching 37 seasons and won 599 games during her outstanding career, and Tuesday night will go down as one of the most satisfying regular season victories of her career.

       Simpson outscored Leake Academy by nine points in the fourth quarter to win 49-45 and end Leake’s 70-game, five-year home winning streak at Madden.

       Said Dear: “In all the years I have coached at Simpson, I have never beaten their varsity here – that’s 20 years of losing to Leake.”

       Now she has.

       Payton Purvis, Maddie Craft and Carson Carter combined for 37 points to lead Simpson to the victory. Leake led 17-14 after one quarter, 23-20 at half, and 36-31 after three quarters, but Simpson turned it on in the fourth.

       “We had a great fourth quarter,” said Dear, who has coached 20 years at Simpson, 13 at Brandon High, three at Union Academy and one at Rankin Academy. “It was a gutsy and gritty effort by my kids. I’m so proud to be their coach.”

       Simpson improved to 24-4 overall and 9-0 in MAIS Class 5A, District 2 play. Leake dropped to 29-3 overall and 8-1 in district play. Simpson defeated Leake 65-61 when it rallied for 10 points down early in the fourth quarter to pull out the win at Simpson earlier this month. The win clinched the district title for Simpson. It was the first time Leake hadn’t won a district title in decades.

       Simpson now has a two-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. The win at Simpson was the first time to defeat 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.

Leake hadn’t lost a home game since a loss to Kirk Nov. 16, 2017. More than five years and two months of winning every home game. It was Leake’s last home game this season.

       “We knew it wouldn’t last forever,” Leake coach Amanda Hatch said. “But what a great home game win streak that this entire team can say they’ve been a part of. This senior group has contributed to many of those.”

       One of those key seniors, leading scorer Miriam Prince, missed her 22nd consecutive game. Hatch said she hopes Prince can come back at some point this season. Prince is still suffering from pain in her leg from surgery this summer. Prince and her 19.9 points per game scoring average has been on the bench for several months after needing 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) earlier this season.

       Prince, last year’s MAIS Class 5A Player of the Year, scored a career-high 40 points against Simpson last season.

       Leake junior forward Katye Jones missed the only two losses Leake had before Tuesday (out with sickness at Pillow and at Simpson), but she started and played against Simpson Tuesday. She had 9 points, third behind seniors Emeri Warren (11 points) and Morgan Freeny (10 points).

       Leake, which set a Mississippi record with 20 3-pointers in a game earlier this season, made only 4 from beyond the arc Tuesday.

       “We went cold from the outside and missed some easy ones inside as well,” said Hatch, who said Leake coach Amanda Hatch, who has a 313-35 record – an amazing 89.9 percent winning percentage – in her ninth season at Leake and has 428 career wins in her 14th season as a head coach. “We gave them way too many second chance opportunities, and they took advantage of most of them. There was one stretch in the fourth quarter where we gave up offensive rebounds three possessions in a row and had two or three turnovers at the same time, which allowed them to take the lead.”

       Purvis led Simpson with 14 points. Craft – who had a career-high 17 points and a team-high five steals and made four free throws in the final 30 seconds in the win over Leake at Simpson – had 12 points. Carter had 11 points.