Tia'Rain Saunders

Choctaw Central's Tia'Rain Saunders tries to get to the ball on an attempted steal Friday night against Louisville's Jalen Ingram.

Meloney Thames once again put the team on her back.

The junior guard for the Choctaw Central girls basketball team drove to the basket all night and made layup after layup in Friday’s Region 4-4A championship game against Louisville at Northeast Lauderdale.

Thames finished with 32 points as the Lady Warriors kept the Lady Wildcats at bay to close out a 60-49 victory to secure the district title.

“She’s one of the ones that makes us go,” Choctaw Central head coach Bill Smith said. “When she has a good night, of course we play better, but several other girls did their job also, and it was just a team effort.”

Successful shooting early helped Choctaw Central (26-4) take a 19-11 lead after the first quarter. Thames, who hit a 3-pointer in the opening period and had five points through the first eight minutes, laid in a shot to open the second to give her team a double-digit advantage. A 3 by Louisville cut its deficit to five with 4:20 to play in the half, but Thames finished the quarter with nine consecutive points, seven coming off free throws, as the Lady Warriors led 32-22 at intermission. 

Lyleonia Johnson

Choctaw Central's Lyleonia Johnson gets trapped inside the lane against Louisville as she tries to pass the ball off Friday night.

The Lady Wildcats got within single digits again in the third quarter, but the Lady Warriors silenced their effort and went ahead 45-34 after Thames nailed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Four points off two offensive rebounds and a string of six consecutive points put Louisville back within five points of Choctaw Central with three minutes left in the fourth. But a 3-point play from Thames, and a bucket on the Lady Warriors’ next possession, staved off the Lady Wildcats.

“We played with a lot of intensity tonight. A lot better than we did last night,” Smith said. “Once we got the lead, we tried to make sure we kept it, and fortunately we played good enough at the end to pull out the victory.” 

Leilaya McMillan

Choctaw Central's Leilaya McMillan passes the ball off as Louisville applies the press defense Friday night.

Tia’rain Saunders added 11 points, five rebounds and four assists for the Lady Warriors. Areyanna Hunter led Louisville with 16 points and added six rebounds, and Kiersten Ball had eight points along with 14 boards. 

Thames was awarded tournament MVP, and Saunders, Shantashia John and Kyla Farmer were named to the All-Tournament team. Choctaw Central picked up its seventh-straight win with the title victory and earned a No. 1 seed in the Class 4A playoffs. 

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