By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
It definitely lived up to the hype.
While it wasn’t always pretty, the Division 5-3A girls championship game certainly turned into a typical Southeast Lauderdale-Choctaw Central game — a thriller. After squandering what was once a 13-point lead, the host Tigers rallied back in the final two minutes to win 57-56, defeating the Warriors for the fourth time this season and securing their first division crown since the 2008-09 season.
“Coming in I knew either team could win,” Southeast Joe Miller said. “I’m just disappointed in our play tonight, because we’re better than that.
“We’re fortunate. And that makes us 4-0 against them this year, knowing that we’ll probably play them again next week and probaly see them again the next week.
“That’s just typical Southeast-Choctaw.”
Trailing 21-19 at halftime, Southeast (28-1) quickly regained the lead during a big third quarter that saw the Tigers push their advantage into double figures. A Chariae Harbin 3-pointer little more than a minute into the third quarter gave the Tigers a lead they held for nearly the remainder of the game.
However, even as Southeast steadily built the lead up — using an 8-1 run midway through the third to push the lead to 32-24. The Tigers then closed the quarter on a 7-0 run to make it 39-27.
A Kamesha Pringle free throw on the first possession of the fourth pushed the lead to 13 and the Tigers seemed in control. But the Warriors had other ideas.
After playing the final three minutes — the scoreless streak during the third — without star Kristen Dixon who limped off the court — the Warriors stormed back behind her and hot shooting from deep. Dixon, a senior, finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and 12 steals as her length on the press caused Southeast fits. Back to back steals early in the quarter helped Choctaw close to 40-36 before LaShayla McMillan and Kandace Lasiloo hit 3-pointers that helped keep the Warriors close.
Dixon’s defense then helped the Warriors regain a brief lead. Another steal turned into a McMillan basket and then an offensive rebound and score tied it at 40 with 2:28 left. Twenty seconds later, 21 hit one of two free throws and the Warriors led 50-49.
Southeast, though, settled down and went right back ahead as Tay Ruffin drilled a 3-pointer and Crystal Clay — who led the Tigers with 17 points and 16 rebounds as they outrebounded Choctaw 59-28 — then scored inside to stretch the lead back to four. Ruffin, who finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, knocked down a pair of free throws with 47 seconds left to push the lead to 56-50 before Choctaw again stormed back. But after scores from Shaneisha Willis and Dixon, Harbin hit one free throw with nine seconds remaining to give Southeast a three-point lead before Dixon scored at the buzzer.
“Tay Ruffin hit a big 3 and then comes back and shoots two free throws, and if you miss them you are out and if you make them, you win,” Miller added. “Chariae then stepped in there, and she only made one, but one is all we needed there.”