It’s been four years in the making; a game the Lady Braves began preparing for since last March. On Friday night the Lady Braves achieved their goal, defeating the Choctaw Central Lady Warriors …
It’s been four years in the making; a game the Lady Braves began preparing for since last March. On Friday night the Lady Braves achieved their goal, defeating the Choctaw Central Lady Warriors in a game that came down to the final seconds with a 55 – 53 win! And to make the victory sweeter they remained undefeated at home all season.
Round two of the 4A Playoffs found the top two 2022 State Championship teams battle it out; one continued the road to State Playoffs while the other ended their season and began preparing for next year.
The Lady Braves fought their toughest opponent this season in front of a packed hometown crowd full of energy and excitement in support of seeing them move on to Round three.
These two teams have met on the court five times in the last four years; the only game the Lady Braves won was in a buzzer-beater, three-point basket in December of 2020, a play that made it to ESPN Top 10 Plays of the Week.
Even with that one win, the Lady Braves could never beat them when it mattered, but this was their year.
When the Lady Braves stepped on the court, for the Seniors, it was the final time they played on the hardwood at TC, with determination it would not be their last high school game.
“Taking them out of the playoffs should give us some confidence,” senior Lila Sanderson said. “They were 2022 State Champions. We have been put out three years in a row by Choctaw in the playoffs, last year being the Championship game. Nothing feels worse than making it that far and losing, but we continued to work after that game last year to get back to where we are now.”
The Lady Braves had one mission, to take down Choctaw Central and advance to round three; they came to play, but Choctaw Central did not go down without a fight.
Sanderson, who has been a dominating force on the court, was the first to score on an inbound pass setting up the energy for the remainder of the game.
Choctaw Central’s first trip down the court found Reese Moore intercepting a pass from Jocelyn Bell to Kylinn Bell, from this turnover Sanderson was fouled by Mattison Bell and makes the first of her two free throws.
As the first quarter continued, the Lady Braves struggled with getting some of their shots to fall along with mistakes causing them to turnover the ball to the Lady Warriors.
The Lady Warriors were unable to capitalize on the Lady Braves errors, keeping the score close.
Margaret Claire Riley intercepted a pass the first play of the second quarter and the Lady Braves were able to score off this play with a jump shot by Sanderson.
The Lady Braves’ Moore and Abbi Reed scored back-to-back three-pointers, breathing energy into the team and helping push them through the quarter.
The Lady Braves were down by two points at halftime after an exhausting 16 minutes of basketball.
“We could not turn the ball over and allow them to go on runs,” Head Coach Brian Middleton said in the locker room.
When the Lady Braves emerged on the court after halftime, they were re-energized and ready to finish business. To start the third quarter Moore scored to tie the game.
At one point in the third quarter, the Lady Braves went on an 11 – 4 run, but the Lady Warriors rallied, closing the gap.
By the end of the third quarter, the Lady Braves held the Lady Warriors to only scoring eight points and were up 40 – 35.
Choctaw Central came back in the fourth quarter and took an eight-point lead, but the Lady Braves refused to give up; with sheer grit and determination they quickly closed in on the lead.
With less than one minute left in the game, Reese Moore drove in and scored, putting the Lady Braves up by three points.
Zareli Ozuna was called for a foul, with the Lady Braves in the bonus; she made the first and missed the second, making it a two-point game.
With 27 seconds left in the game, Choctaw Central had possession of the ball and Malaka Morris caught an inbound pass, made the shot, and tied the game.
As Hallie Durham inbounded the ball to Moore with 22 seconds left on the clock, Moore drove down to half court as she had four defenders closing in on her, Moore then passed to Sanderson near the goal.
Sanderson was undefended, scored the layup, and put the Lady Braves up two points.
Choctaw Central called a timeout as Morris drove in for the shot with seven seconds left on the clock.
Choctaw Central’s Morris got the inbound pass with the open shot under the goal, and the basketball gods smiled on TC: the ball rolled around the rim and then off, and TC’s Durham came down with the critical rebound.
Durham passed the ball to Moore as she dribbled down the court to end the game.
The leading scorer for the night was Moore with 21 points followed by Sanderson with 13 points, and Reed with 10 points.
The Lady Braves advanced to Round three in the playoffs and basked in their victory, as Choctaw Central Lady Warriors ended theirs.
“Knowing that it’s my senior year and we didn’t let them knock us out for the fourth time in a row was amazing,” Lexi Kennedy said. “My team and I were determined to beat them, and we did it when it mattered most.”
The game will be one the seniors will never forget; they began their season with two goals: win the State Championship, and beat Choctaw Central, one item officially marked off the list.
“It felt like I was on cloud nine,” Durham said. “Like I finally got that flea away from my ear.”
“I peed myself, literally,” Senior Emalie Wadkins said. “It felt almost as good as beating Pontotoc to go to State.”
Last game at home
The 2022-23 basketball season has been one to remember for this year’s Seniors, but this is one game they will remember forever.
Even for Coach Middleton, it will be one win to remember.
“The toughness and resilience we showed,” Middleton said. “The undefeated season at home. Sending these Seniors out as winners at home and getting that Choctaw Central shadow off us. Also, just the atmosphere our fans created for our young ladies.”
For any athlete, some games will stick with them forever, tonight’s win was that game.
“The moment I will remember most is not necessarily a moment but just the way our team never folded,” Kennedy said. “We continued to fight until the buzzer went off, and we weren’t going to let them beat us.”
For two Seniors, it’s the post-game celebration they will remember.
“I will remember us having a dog pile in the middle of the court just screaming and crying at each other because we had accomplished something big for our team,” Wadkins said.
Senior Ansley Ray, will remember the end of the game.
“Us running to each other,” Ray said, “was such a surreal feeling. Before I knew it, Zareli and I were both on the ground. Some of the others were on the ground also, but I remember us being so excited we didn’t care if we were being tackled to the ground.”
Two other seniors will forever remember a specific moment frozen in time.
“I will remember putting us up by two on a layup to ice the game,” Sanderson said.
“I will remember the feeling when I grabbed the rebound,” Durham said, “and passing the ball up the court to Reese to finish the game.”
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