Lady Bulldogs claim second state championship title
JACKSON — After a thrilling come-from-behind victory, Natchez head coach Alphaka Moore grabbed the state championship trophy and lifted it high over her head for the second straight year.
Her team, palming the ball from all sides and jumping up and down while they shouted, “Two-peat,” celebrated in unison after defeating West Jones 74-66 for the MHSAA Class 5A State Championship.
“We’ve been talking about this all year long,” Moore said. “Everyone wants to talk about repeating as state champions. To actually have (the trophy) in my hands is a relief.”
The championship felt more earned than ever for Ernesha Chatman, who had to put her team on her back to overcome a 24-6 second quarter deficit. The junior point guard scored 11 of her 19 points in the quarter, using her quickness to break West Jones’ press and create her own shot. After her team scored only four points in the first quarter — trailing 17-4 after the opening period — Chatman elected to do the heavy lifting.
“I’m the starting point guard,” Chatman said. “I had to take over the game for us to win.”
And though Chatman’s efforts helped the team close within one before halftime, the Lady Mustangs would outscore Natchez 20-13 in the third quarter, digging yet another hole for Natchez to climb out of. Back-to-back buckets by West Jones’ Brianna Page gave the Lady Mustangs a 54-42 at the start of the fourth quarter. That’s when junior guard Skylar Morgan, the MVP of the state championship game, began to heat up. At the 5:30 mark of the fourth quarter, Morgan would go on to score nine straight points for the Lady Bulldogs, tying the game at 59 after a long 3-pointer with three minutes to play in the game.
“I thought I was going to miss that shot,” Morgan said. “When I made it and it went in, I was just like, ‘Oh my God!’”
While Chatman, Morgan and Kirdis Clark were able to create scoring opportunities, Natchez junior forward Zyaire Ewing, a preseason Dandy Dozen selection, struggled to convert point blank field goals. But Ewing kept battling, and following Morgan’s 3-pointer, Ewing received the pass at the top of the key, put the ball down on the floor and drove to the basket for the go-ahead bucket. For a player who has grown accustomed to dominating games, Ewing was susceptible to growing increasingly frustrated, but her head coach would give her encouragement during a late timeout in the third quarter.
“She was telling me not to worry about my mistakes, that I just need to make up for them,” Ewing said.
After Chatman scored on an off-balanced mid-range jumper and Clark followed with a fast-break layup, Ewing secured a rebound with two minutes to play and found a wide-open Clark down the floor for a layup opportunity that put Natchez up 67-61.
“We knew they’d be going back for the rebound, so I just ran back and Zyaire just threw it,” said Clark, who had 19 points in the victory.
The basket all but sealed the deal for the Lady Bulldogs, as Natchez made key free throws down the stretch to solidify the victory.
Following the game, after the Lady Bulldogs accepted the trophy, posed for photos and greeted enthusiastic fans, Clark immediately turned her focus to 2016.
“We’re going to have another ring next year,” the sophomore said. “This won’t be the last time they see us here.”