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Natchez girls win South State in rematch with South Jones

Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — The Natchez High School girl’s basketball team celebrates winning the MHSAA Class 5A South State Championship game against South Jones High School Saturday. Top left, South Jones High’s Maia McCullum guards Natchez High’s Ernesha Chatman in the first half of the game. Top right, Rashonae Rice, left, and Keyana Jones cheer on teammates in the final seconds of the game. Natchez defeated South Jones 34-30.
Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — The Natchez High School girl’s basketball team celebrates winning the MHSAA Class 5A South State Championship game against South Jones High School Saturday. Top left, South Jones High’s Maia McCullum guards Natchez High’s Ernesha Chatman in the first half of the game. Top right, Rashonae Rice, left, and Keyana Jones cheer on teammates in the final seconds of the game. Natchez defeated South Jones 34-30.

NATCHEZ — The Natchez High School Lady Bulldogs had already won a bid to the state tournament with a win against Pascagoula High School Friday, but beating South Jones High School Saturday was the icing on the cake.

The Lady Bulldogs pulled out a 34-30 upset against South Jones in the South State championship, a team that beat them earlier this season giving them one of the team’s two losses all season.

Senior Marquita Wallace said the rematch against South Jones was long awaited.

“We knew we had to get them,” Wallace said. “They beat us, so we have to beat them, we have to show them who the best team is.”

Nothing was going right for Natchez Saturday throughout the entire game — shots weren’t falling, lay ups wouldn’t stay down and foul trouble came early.

But Ernesha Chatman struggled the most early on and throughout the entire tournament.

Chatman had a difficult time getting shots to even touch the rim. But as the point guard, she had to keep a positive state of mind with her team down 23-17 going into the fourth quarter.

The Lady Bulldogs hadn’t led since 15-14 at halftime, and a two-point third quarter performance by Natchez gave South Jones some breathing room.

Those two points were free throws by Chatman.

In the fourth quarter, Skylar Morgan scored the first points as she was in the right place at the right time as a loose ball bobbled into her hands under the goal.

But Natchez wouldn’t get their momentum going until Zyaire Ewing put back Kirdis Clark’s missed lay up for the 27-26 lead with 3:25 remaining.

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Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — NHS’s Kirdis Clark dribbles around South Jones High’s JaKeyla Miller in the second half of the game.

 

Natchez began to drain the clock, but South Jones’ Kalen Phillips stole the ball and scored a lay up in transition to regain the lead 30-29 with 1:29 left.

From that point, Chatman took over the game, signaling her teammates to give her space as she handled the ball close to center court.

Chatman was fouled on the drive, and went to the free-throw line to shoot.

She managed to hit both free throws to take the lead back 31-30, and Chatman ended up at the free-throw line again to push the lead to 34-30 and ultimately win the game for Natchez.

Chatman and Wallace finished with nine points each.

Head coach Alphaka Moore said though Chatman had been struggling lately, she still remained the team’s leader throughout the adversity.

“She is our tempo,” Moore said. “She controls everything, so with her out there, she doesn’t need to score a lot of points, she needs to maintain the tempo, and she has that take over mentality and she showed that.”

Chatman wasn’t the only player with a heavy weight on her shoulder. Wallace was given the task to guard South Jones’ Phillips throughout the game.

Moore said she knew from the start the Lady Bulldogs would have to keep pressure on Phillips in order to stay in the game.

“(Phillips) is an amazing player, she is unstoppable, so we had to come out with a plan,” Moore said. “We had to keep her content. (South Jones’) plan is to get it to her, so when we cut that off, they have no other option.

Wallace succeeded, only allowing Phillips five points, three of which were free throws.

“She just stayed with the plan,” Moore said. “Wallace is big in stature. If she can contain one on defense, and get the rebounds and put backs for us, it helps.”

Moore thanked her seniors, Wallace and Kiana Jones, after the game for the work they put in to become South State champions.

Moore made her team realize, they are now “the best basketball team in the southern region of the state,” and they must take that confidence with them to the state championship in Jackson next week.

Wallace agreed with Moore, and she said she couldn’t wait to represent Natchez at the state tournament.

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brittney lohmiller | The Natchez Democrat
Rashonae Rice, left, and Keyana Jones cheer on teammates in the final seconds of the game. Natchez defeated South Jones 34-30.

 

“We’re going to stay confident and take it one game at a time,” Wallace said. “If we claimit, it’s ours.”

The Lady Bulldogs will play the first round of the state tournament as the South No. 1 seed at 1:00 p.m. March 10 in the Mississippi Coliseum.