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The Lady Bulldogs advance to the South State championship

brittney lohmiller | The Natchez Democrat The Natchez High School girls basketball team celebrates defeating Pascagoula High School in the MHSAA Class 5A Girls South State Tournament Friday. The Lady Bulldogs advance to the South State Championship against South Jones High School at 7 p.m. today.
brittney lohmiller | The Natchez Democrat
The Natchez High School girls basketball team celebrates defeating Pascagoula High School in the MHSAA Class 5A Girls South State Tournament Friday. The Lady Bulldogs advance to the South State Championship against South Jones High School at 7 p.m. today.

NATCHEZ — Hosting the MHSAA 5A South State championship tournament has its perks, and the Natchez High School Lady Bulldogs saw the benefits as they celebrated their 44-36 win at mid court to a standing ovation from a packed house.

Natchez came into the semi final game against Pascagoula High School blind, never having a chance to study the Lady Panthers.

A slow first half showed they were feeling out the Lady Panthers to go into a strategic second half, which ultimately won them the game.

“When you have a team you’re not familiar with, the first half gives you a chance to look at what works and what doesn’t,” head coach Alphaka Moore said. “Once we got a chance to see that, we came out and we were able to make the adjustments.”

The Lady Bulldogs found themselves down 19-17 at halftime. Their shots weren’t falling and it seemed like they would be plagued with foul trouble.

But Moore was able to use the 10-minute half time to turn Natchez into a completely different team.

Playing against an equally aggressive, yet undersized Lady Panthers team was the loophole for Moore, and she reiterated to her players that working the ball into the post would be the key to winning.

And she was right.

The Lady Bulldogs came out in the second half on a 16-5 run to regain the lead 33-24, powered by the inside presence of Zyaire Ewing, Rashonae Rice and Marquita Wallace.

Wallace pulled down timely offensive rebounds and put back layups to get the run going for Natchez.

Ewing had 24 points for the night, and 10 in the third quarter as a major part of the surge.

The Lady Bulldogs went into the fourth quarter ahead 35-28 and their energy boost in the third quarter turned into a confidence booster, Moore said.

Freshman guard Kirdis Clark was able to hit her first three-pointer of the night after shooting poorly in the first half, and the Natchez guards were able to maintain their poise, limit turnovers and drain the clock for the majority of the final quarter.

Though the work of Ewing, Wallace and Rice was instrumental, Moore said there was a much bigger picture.

“Some people think the players who have the most points do all the work, but the ones who aren’t scoring but making the great passes are (really instrumental as well),” Moore said.

Outscoring Pascagoula 9-8 in the fourth, Natchez was able to seal the win and advance to the South State championship in a rematch against South Jones High School at 7 p.m. today.

South Jones handed Natchez one of its two losses this season, and Moore said her players are looking to avenge themselves.

“They wanted the rematch and they got it, we just have to play ball,” she said.