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Here Again: NHS girls one game away from repeating

Rashonae Rice goes for a layup in a game earlier this season. Rice is a senior member of the Lady Bulldogs, who are looking to repeat as state champions. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Rashonae Rice goes for a layup in a game earlier this season. Rice is a senior member of the Lady Bulldogs, who are looking to repeat as state champions. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Alphaka Moore had much more on her mind than simple X’s and O’s in 2015.

As head coach of the reigning, defending 2014 MHSAA Class 5A State Champions, Moore was well aware her 23-1 Lady Bulldogs were hearing the outside voices, figuratively and literally.

“I know when they leave practice they have a hundred people calling them, saying ‘You’ve got to do it, win another championship,’” Moore said. “Just this last game, I had to turn my phone off from so many family members calling me right before the game. I know they’re hearing it more than I am. I was always worried they may panic more because of how much was riding on them.”

The hike back to a state title is nearly over. With one game left standing in the Lady Bulldogs’ way, Natchez forward Zyaire Ewing said it almost feels like a relief.

“I’m happy because it’s been on my mind the whole time,” Ewing said. “We’ve fought this whole season for this moment. Last night (against Pearl), I was ready for that game to be over with because I just wanted to play in the state championship again. I knew we were going to win, and I know we can’t get overconfident now.”

Senior Rashonae Rice agreed with Ewing, but said the time is now to turn up the aggression.

“It is a relief, but we’re not done just yet,” Rice said.

Moore said she has no doubt the team will give it all they have against West Jones Friday in Jackson. In fact, she said she was more worried about where their mentality was in games leading up.

“It’s like they’re just ready to unleash,” Moore said. “I know they’ve been waiting for this.”

Standing in the Lady Bulldogs way will be a West Jones basketball team that is 26-7 on the season. The backcourt-heavy Lady Mustangs are led in scoring by three guards — Zan Ratcliffe, Kendra Keys and Breonca Ducksworth. Ratcliffe averages 14.3 points per game, which is slightly better than the Lady Bulldogs’ team-high of 13.1 from NHS’ Ewing.

Tuesday morning, one day removed from the Lady Bulldogs’ 71-51 win against Pearl, members of the team had yet to watch film of West Jones. However, if West Jones’ possesses the same type of team speed as Pearl, the Lady Bulldogs will likely look to Ernesha Chatman to combat the Lady Mustangs’ quick guards. Chatman was the reason the Lady Bulldogs were so successful against Pearl Monday night, Moore attested.

“She was doing everything against Pearl,” Moore said. “Pearl ran the floor faster than anyone we’ve played and pressed the whole game, but Ernesha was able to blow past them every time. All everyone else had to do was run with her.”

Chatman said she had to play Pearl’s game better than the Lady Pirates, picking up her tempo every time Pearl chose to.

Heading into a second consecutive title game, Chatman and her teammates look to do whatever is necessary to bring the championship back to Natchez again, further proving that they can play with anyone.

“We just want to show people Natchez can compete with all these other schools,” Chatman said. “If we win back-to-back state titles, that forces people to look at Natchez and say these girls can play.”

Moore gave the team Tuesday off after the team had to play Saturday and Monday on little rest, but she said the girls would be studying their opponent and preparing to beat West Jones today.

For Rice, that potential end result couldn’t get much better.

“To be a senior and go out with a bang like that? That would be amazing,” Rice said.