Two Gold Ball state championship trophies returned to DeSoto County from Jackson and Mississippi Coliseum Friday night after the 5A finals were played in girls and boys basketball.
Olive Branch (29-4) won the 5A state girls’ title in convincing fashion, a 61-48 victory over previously undefeated West Jones (29-1).
But, the boys’ state trophy will end up down the road at Center Hill, where the 31-3 Mustangs fought off the 26-8 Olive Branch Conquistadors 75-73 to claim the state championship.
CENTER HILL 75, OLIVE BRANCH 73: After Braxton Morris tied the game at the first quarter buzzer on a half-court three-pointer, the Mustangs took control in the second quarter, outscoring the Quistors 27-18.
Calvin Temple and Kaeden Laws led Center Hill in scoring with 11 points each in the first half. Joe Cooper paced Olive Branch with 15 and DJ Jeffries was held to just six.
Free throw shooting was a key in the first half for Center Hill, which hit 15-of-17 from the charity stripe and with Cameron Matthews and Wes Taylor saddled with three fouls each in the first 16 minutes of action.
Olive Branch came out strong in the third quarter, however, and held Center Hill to just five points to grab a 50-49 lead going into the fourth quarter.
In a back-and-forth final eight minutes, the Mustangs were able to get a 75-73 advantage with 1.1 seconds left after a free throw. Jeffries took the inbound pass but his heave from three-quarter court was short and gave the Mustangs the title.
Jeffries finished with 27 points to lead all scorers and added 13 rebounds in his final high school basketball game. Cooper provided 20 points while Josh Stephenson (12) and Christopher Owens (10) were the other Quistors in double figures.
On the other side, Temple finished with 24 points, one of four Mustangs in double figures. Lewis ended up with 16, Decorian Payton scored 14 and Kaeden Laws tallied 13 points.
‘It was a big win,” said Temple, the finals player of the game, “To sit out a whole year, this means a lot to me and a lot to the school. This is the first-ever (state championship) in school history.”
“I would put him up against any basketball player in the state,” responded coach Newton Mealer about his senior. “He’s much underrated, and his refusal to lose in those final timeouts is what made Center Hill basketball a state champion.”
Mealer also said winning the state title against a county rival provided a sweet moment for him and his program.
“For 13 years, they said we couldn’t beat ‘em. But now, the respect these kids should get, if they don’t get it now, I don’t know how they can get because we’re 31-3 and we’ve won everything there is to win this year.”
“It hurts, but it should hurt,” Quistors’ coach Eric Rombaugh said about the loss. “We deserved to get beat. I told the younger guys that are coming back next year that they need to learn from it, learn what the seniors did and what they went through to get here."
OLIVE BRANCH 61, WEST JONES 48: Olive Branch opened the evening with a 61-48 victory over West Jones to win the state 5A girls basketball championship. The 29-4 Lady Quistors won the title with a stifling defense and a huge offensive effort from finals MVP Endya Buford, who scored a game-high 36 points.
Buford had 17 of those points in the first half, on 3-of-9 shooting from three-point range and 6-for-14 outside shooting for the half.
Buford continued the offensive heat in the second half, scoring on 17-of-26 from the floor, 4-for-11 from outside the arch and 6-of-7 from the free throw line. She was one rebound short of a double-double with nine boards and made six steals.
“That kid has been doing that phenomenal play all season,” Thompson said. “I’m just glad she’s on my team and I’m just glad she displayed her talents in a way in which she didn’t have to go outside of her norm.”
Jurnee McLaurin led West Jones with 20 points and Brikayla Gray finished with 15 points.
The Lady Mustangs never led in the game and the Lady Quistors had a 14-point margin with 1:29 to play.
The first quarter set the tone as Olive Branch outscored West Jones by a 17-9 margin after the first eight minutes of play. The Lady Quistor offense was supported by a defense that forced 18 turnovers.
“We wanted to be in control of the tempo on both ends and we wanted to be the ones that dictated everything that happened,” Thompson said. “That gave us an opportunity to be successful. That’s the way we’ve been successful all season. We like to play at our pace and do what we do.”
Thompson, who won several titles at H.W. Byers, says winning state championships each time are special.
“They’re all sweet,” Thompson noted. “You don't get used to this. You hope it continues to happen and I’m just glad the kids are able to enjoy it.”
For Olive Branch, Friday was the last time they will appear as a 5A school with the assignment for next year back up to the largest class, 6A.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.