POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Thursday night was a memorable one inside the friendly confines of Marvin R. White Coliseum for multiple reasons.
The Pearl River women picked up a hard-fought 61-50 victory over a shorthanded Meridian; and while the win was big, it was everything surrounding the program's 16thvictory over the season that will leave a lasting mark on the Lady Wildcats.
Coach Scotty Fletcher reminisced about how far his program has come in his four seasons at the helm of the program. At one point not too long ago there were only a smattering of fans in the maroon chairbacks. Thursday, the gym was electric as the Lady Wildcats picked up an important victory on Sophomore Night.
"I couldn't be happier for this group. Especially to be so young with 13 freshmen who have never played in south division play, and to win 16 games overall and nine in division," Fletcher said. "I'm just very, very excited."
Prior to the contest, Fletcher dusted off his 2003 State Championship ring from his playing days and showed his players.
"I told them if we can get into the playoffs, this is what we have a chance to achieve," he recalled during WRJW 1320 AM's post-game show.
If the rules are enacted as written, Fletcher's team will have earned its first postseason berth since the 2013-14 season.
With the win, Pearl River (16-7 overall, 9-5 MACJC) entered into a four-way tie with Gulf Coast (13-8, 9-5), Copiah-Lincoln (18-5, 9-5) and East Central (18-5, 9-5) for the final three spots in next week's MACJC State Tournament. The league's bylaws state ties are broken first by division record, then head-to-head competition, before moving to records against the highest seeded teams in the division. If still tied, the teams go to point spread — with a 12-point maximum — and overall record in conference before relying on a coin toss.
Because the MACJC is without a commissioner currently, the league's Athletic Council will meet Friday morning to determine seeding. The playoff bracket should be released shortly after.
"This team deserves to continue to play. I've never been around a team in 13 years of coaching that has been so dedicated to the team's core values and the commitment level it takes to be successful," Fletcher said. "This group has been nothing less than astonishing. They deserve all the credit.
"I couldn't have asked for a better team."
HOW THE GAME WAS WON
Meridian (9-14, 3-11) only dressed seven players for their season finale, but the Eagles didn't play like they were shorthanded.
PRCC pulled ahead early in the contest, taking a 9-7 lead on a Shania Wright (Clinton) bucket, but the Lady Wildcats never felt completely comfortable. PRCC led 18-12 after the first quarter and 31-22 at halftime, but MCC hung around. Thanks to a 6-0 run late in the third quarter, PRCC took a 44-35 advantage into the final quarter before closing out the contest.
"I thought they made it as tough as they could on us," Fletcher said. "They didn't shut it down and quit and that's a credit to their character and coaching staff."
PRCC shot 30 percent from the floor and made 6 of 34 shots from 3-point range.
"You can't run from pressure," Fletcher said. "I felt like our girls played a little too tight tonight. I think they wanted it too much and it showed — That's my opinion on it.
"They just tried so hard."
LEADING THE WAY
Jakia Harper (Jackson; Provine) converted three 3-pointers to lead PRCC with 11 points. Mychala Linzy (Clinton) nearly hit double digits with nine points — all on 3-pointers. Linzy and Alanna Smith (Picayune) led the Lady Wildcats with three assists each. Sophomore Elexis Peyton (Jackson; Provine) was once again a force on the glass, pulling in a team-best nine rebounds.
SUPER SOPHOMORES AND A FABULOUS FRESHMAN
In between the men's and women's games, PRCC held a sophomore ceremony recognizing Peyton and fellow sophomore Gabby Brown (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.; Choctaw). PRCC also honored freshman Dywana Parker (Gulfport), who is on schedule to graduate early.