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March 1, 2013

Southeast awaits status of star players

MERIDIAN — Southeast Lauderdale girls basketball coach Joe Miller lost more than South State last Saturday, as the Tigers fell 70-64 to rival Choctaw Central. He also lost his go-to girl in the post, his starting point guard and the one of the Tigers' leading threats from beyond the arch.

    Center, Crystal Clay (knee), point guard Denisha Knight (ankle) and guard Chariae Harbin (ankle) went down in the South State championship game and have not participated in practice this week.

    “They continue to say they will be able to play Saturday,” Miller said. “But, Denisha’s and Chariae’s ankles are both tender and Crystal Clay’s knee is sore.”

    Clay, who is the Tiger’s leading scorer and best inside presence will see a doctor today to help determine whether or not she can play in Southeast’s state semi-final game against Ripley at 1 p.m. from the  Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Miller said the decision to play will be up to Clay, her parents and the medical staff and said he does not encourage the senior to play if there is a risk of further injuring the knee.

    Knight and Harbin have continued to ice their ankles during practice, and Miller said swelling in both player’s ankles has gone down dramatically since Saturday. The status of all three players will be a game-time decision.

“We have practiced as if they are all not going to be there,” Miller said. “If one or two, or all three of them play, then that is just a bonus.”

    Miller said he plans to move 5-foot-6 guard Tay Ruffin to the post if Clay is unable to play Saturday. Though primary an outside shooter, Ruffin has stepped in at post before for the Tigers this season.

    If Miller elects to keep Ruffin on the outside, he will most likely turn to freshmen Timarra Trussell and Tia Larkin. Trussell played a key role in the Tigers’ district-championship run, as she filled in for an injured Clay during the opening game against Kemper County, were she tallied 18 points, 19 rebounds and five steals in a 79-22 win.

    “She’s an outstanding player,” Miller said of Trussell. “She had a hip injury from softball and missed about two months from the beginning of the season. If it wasn’t for that, I think she would have played a lot more than that this year. She’s capable of stepping in.”

    At the point guard position, junior guard Shakira Shoemaker would step into the starting role if Knight is unable to play.

    While Miller is confident his backup point guard will pick up the slack, a potential concern for the Tigers is depth at the position. In Knight’s absence, Southeast would need to turn to Kamesha Pringle as its backup point guard. The senior has been a reliable shooting guard for the Tigers off the bench but does not have as much experience playing the point.

    If Pringle is unable to perform at a high level, Southeast could stumble against a Ripley team with a difficult full-court defense.

“She’ll have the most pressure in trying to beat their pressure,” Miller said of Pringle. “That’s were I see the most difficulty coming from. I know if Kamesha is unable to step in, it will be a lot harder to get the ball up the floor.”

Another key in dealing with a high-energy Ripley team will be staying out of foul trouble. With limited depth, the Tigers will need to rely on more minutes from their remaining players.

“We have talked about that in games even when we have everybody,” Miller said. “We have a tendency to get in foul trouble early. That’s going to be a key to the game, avoiding anymore injuries and staying out of foul trouble.”

Ripley is making its fourth-straight trip to Jackson and is led by Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen member Jayla Chills, who is averaging 17.8 points a game on the season. Miller said, even if all three players return, the Tigers will face a difficult test Saturday.

“They are used to being there, and they have had a good team all year,” Miller said of Ripley. “They are just a well-rounded, solid ball club.”

Despite the setbacks, Miller said his team remains confident in its chances and  is ready for the challenge.

    “The mood’s good,” Miller said. “I still believe my team is going to win it. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you it’s an up-hill battle, but we have always said as a team, when one goes out, the next one steps up.”

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