The Meridian Star
Southeast Lauderdale center Crystal Clay felt pain with every step she took, battling a torn meniscus in her left knee Saturday during the 3A girls semi-final game against Ripley. Before the game, trainers told the Tigers' star player she wouldn't be able to play on the injured knee –– Clay disagreed.
Not only did she make the starting lineup for Southeast, Clay led the Tigers to a 57-50 win over Ripley, tallying a game-high 26 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocked shots in 27 grueling minutes of play.
“I didn't think I was going to be able to make it,” Clay said. “The doctor told me I couldn't play, and I just told myself I can't give up now. I had to support my team, we came too far to give up now.”
Clay was one of three Tiger players who came into the game with injuries. Starting point guard Denisha Knight and guard Chariae Harbin were both questionable heading into the game due to sore ankles.
If the Tigers were in pain early on, they certainly didn't show it. Southeast started the game on a 9-2 run and did not slow down from there, taking a 15-5 lead into the second quarter.
A scary moment occurred early in the first, as Knight went to the ground battling for a loose ball and came back up wincing in pain. Knight limped to the Southeast bench under her own power but would return for the Tigers later in the quarter. The starting point guard had a game-high eight assists along with four points on the day.
“It hurt really bad,” Knight said. “I really didn't think I was going to be able to make it, but I know my team needed me, so I just pulled through and got back in the ballgame to help my team win.”
Southeast would continue to pound the ball inside to Clay in the second quarter, holding off as late Ripley run in the closing minutes to head into the half up 25-17.
“Definitely, momentum was in their favor,” Ripley head coach Katie Bates said. “Anytime you are in the state playoffs, you don't want to get in a hole that big, because the team you are playing is pretty good. Southeast Lauderdale is pretty quick, and they got Crystal Clay inside. So, every time it seemed like we could get a trap, they would find a way out of it. We'd get in a run, but they would always find a way to get it to (Clay).”
Jasmine Bush and Kamesha Pringle both scored 10 points and played key roles in the win for Southeast. Pringle was assigned to Clarion-Ledger Dandy Dozen member Jayla Chills on defense and held the Ripley star to 11 points on the day.
“I just probably got frustrated,” Chills said. “I couldn't get around and get a shot. When they saw me get frustrated, they kept at it.”
Ripley has had the Tigers number in recent years, eliminating Southeast Lauderdale from the playoffs the past two seasons. Southeast head coach Joe Miller said he felt a relief to finally break through and beat a talented Ripley team.
“I was so glad to finally get that monkey off my back,” Miller said. “Of course, I didn't do it, the kids did. I have the greatest respect for how our team played today.”
With the win, the Tigers will now have five days to rest up for the state championship game on Friday against Choctaw Central at 1 p.m. Miller said the time off will be crucial for his injured team.
“They only way we made it today is that we were fortunate to have seven days of rest heading into the game,” Miller said. “Crystal is going to be hurting in the morning, Denisha is going to be hurting in the morning. I will never ask these girls to play hurt, they told me they were going to play. I tell you what, they played like champions today.”