By Robert Wilson
Photos by Robert Smith
With the Leake Academy girls leading by Simpson Academy by 10 points early in the fourth quarter, it appeared that the Lady Rebels were on their way to their 24th victory in 25 games this season.
But Simpson – which had lost 38 of its last 40 games against Leake dating back to the 2006-2007 season – went on a 14-1 run to take the lead and held on for a 56-51 victory Friday night before a packed crowd of an estimated 900 at Simpson’s gym in an intense MAIS Class 5A, District 2 game in Mendenhall.
Simpson improved to 18-4 and defeated Leake for the first time 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 – which was playing without leading scorer Miriam Prince (leg injury) and leading rebounder Katye Jones (sickness) – dropped to 23-2, ended a 10-game winning streak and lost for only the fourth time in the last 45 games. Leake’s only other loss this season to at Pillow Academy when Prince and Jones did not play.
Prince, one of top scorers in Mississippi, hasn’t played in 15 games, but is expected back later this month. 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 – 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).
Even without Prince’s ball handling and shooting skills and Jones’ rebounding and defense pressure inside, Leake was in control and had led since midway through the second quarter. Senior Morgan Freeny’s layup put Leake up 43-33 with 7 minutes, 15 seconds to play. But Simpson roared back and took the lead when senior Maddie Craft made a layup with 3:40 to play to put Simpson ahead 45-44. Craft, who had a career-high 17 points and a team-high five steals, made four free throws in the final 30 seconds hold off Leake.
“I’m really proud of our effort in the fourth quarter – Maddie Craft and Carson Carter took it to the basket and scored three or four buckets to get us the lead,” said Simpson coach Linda Dear, who won her 593rd career game in 37 seasons (20 at Simpson, 13 at Brandon High, three at Union Academy and one at Rankin Academy.
“Our free throw shooting has not been good lately, but we stepped up at the end and hit free throws to keep our lead. It was a great team win and I’m super proud of my team.”
Senior Carson Carter had 12 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Senior Olivia Banes had 11 points and a team-high four assists.
Leake – which set a Mississippi record with 20 3-pointers in a game earlier this season – made only five 3-pointers and had 22 turnovers. The Lady Rebels scored
Senior Emeri Warren led Leake with 21 points. Freeny had 13 points. Senior Allen Kaye Wilcox had a team-high 10 rebounds.
“I was super proud of our team and how hard we played for four quarters,” said Leake coach Amanda Hatch, who has a 307-34 record – an amazing 90.0 percent winning percentage – in her ninth season at Leake and has 422 career wins in her 14th season as a head coach. “We executed really well defensively until we got a little tired in the fourth and let their shooters hit a couple of easy 3s and gave up six quick points inside. I should have adjusted more quickly in the middle of the fourth. We missed some opportunities on open shots and at the free throw line late. Credit goes to Simpson for having a big fourth quarter.”
The two teams are scheduled to play again on Jan. 24 in the last regular season game at Leake. Leake – which lost to Jackson Prep for the Overall Tournament championship last season and has reached the Overall title game in four of the past five seasons (winning it in 2021) – has won 69 consecutive home games and not lost at home since the 2016-2017 season.