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Brookhaven frustrates Natchez in Bulldog’s playoff loss

Bill Barksdale

For The Natchez Democrat

The Natchez High Lady Bulldogs fell to the Brookhaven High Panthers in the second round of the Region 6- 5A state basketball tournament Wednesday night, 35-50.

Fifty fans per team were allowed in the gymnasium, a change from a silent season in the stands.

Early minutes of the game foreshadowed a reality that shots would not drop through the net for four of the five Bulldog starters. Other than Kelsey McNeal, the starting five made a total of five jump shots or layups. In the first quarter, Olivia Davis notched five points, but she quickly ran into foul trouble.

Natchez turned the ball over three times for every Panther turnover in the first quarter preventing the execution of Natchez Head Coach Alphaka Moore’s planned offense. Most jump shots by the Lady Bulldogs were off the mark and their free throw percentage was a low 33%.

Meanwhile the Panther defense consistently trapped and blocked shots. Leah Wilcher led Brookhaven on the post, and the team played a full court press from the opening buzzer.

Coach Moore shifted strategies after four of her starters struggled to make baskets, and the team turned the ball over at a high rate. She asked Kelsey McNeal to take any shot she could.

“When you have one of those nights with high turnovers and a low percentage of shots you just accept it and make the best of it,” Moore said.

Moore encouraged her team during timeouts in the game. Natchez High School’s leading scorer Kelsey McNeal took charge from the opening of the second quarter and executed one fast break after another.

With speed and grit, McNeal drove hard into the lane drawing a foul, scoring a basket, or both.

“You’ve got to play hard, no matter what,” McNeal said. “Don’t let anyone intimidate you,”

McNeal would drive to the basket even when 3 or 4 defenders trapped her. She finished the night with 20 of the team’s 35 points.

Brookhaven sophomore Angel Wilkinson led the Panthers offense with 19 points in the Panther’s win which puts them in a matchup with Wayne County for the quarterfinal round. Brookhaven Head coach Preston Wilson said her team’s strategy was to tire out the Bulldogs.

“She (Wilkinson) is a real go-getter and consistent on the floor,” Wilson said. “On defense, our strategy was to keep the press on as much as possible to wear them down, since our bench was deeper than theirs.”

The Lady Bulldogs finished 13-6 after winning a District Championship and a winning season, which included an undefeated run of eight games. While the team did not reach the goal Kelsey McNeal set early in the season of making it to the state final, they did accomplish one goal.

“We met our goal this year of being District Champions and I am looking forward to next year going even further in the state tournament,” Moore said.

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