DeSoto County teams went three-for-three Tuesday at the Mississippi High School Activities Association state basketball tournament, as the Olive Branch boys and girls, along with the Center Hill boys, all made their respective state championship games on Friday night.
The Olive Branch girls made the 5A finals with a 78-72 victory over Hattiesburg, the Center Hill boys reached the school’s first-ever state championship game with a 73-69 win, also over Hattiesburg, and Olive Branch’s defending state boys’ championship squad returned to the state finals with a 86-60 victory over Forest Hill, the team they defeated to win the title last March.
OLIVE BRANCH GIRLS 78, HATTIESBURG 72: In the Lady Quistors’ return to the state basketball semifinals, Olive Branch reached the state finals in its final year as a 5A school in a 78-72 victory over Hattiesburg Tuesday afternoon.
Despite dealing with foul trouble, Endya Buford led the 28-4 Lady Quistors with a game-high 31 points, 20 of which came in the key second half comeback from a 35-31 deficit at halftime.
Coach Jason Thompson calls his 5-foot-7 junior a “special kid,” who he believes is the best girls’ basketball player in the state of Mississippi.
“That kid has played in some games where they put two or even three others on her, so she was used to all of the things they were going to try on her,” Thompson said. “I’m just glad that kid is on my team. She is just special.”
After trailing 25-13 at the end of the first quarter, Olive Branch got the game within four points at intermission. The Lady Quistors controlled the second half and outscored Hattiesburg (26-5) 28-19 in the final quarter.
Pressure defense helped key the comeback, as Thompson said, “One of the things in our game plan is to use our speed and do what we’ve done all year. We've been a full-court pressure team all year, a team that created turnovers and created opportunities where they’d do something a little bit faster and a little bit unusual that they normally do.”
Dasia Harden supported Buford’s play with 16 points and Marika Owens also hit double figures with 12.
TyKeria Vance led Hattiesburg with 21 points and Melyia Grayson scored 15 points and was the only player with a double-double with 15 rebounds.
Olive Branch will meet West Jones in the 5A state championship game Friday night at 6 p.m. West Jones was a 62-52 winner over Germantown (Madison) in the second 5A state semifinal Tuesday. West Jones will come into Friday’s final with a 29-0 record.
CENTER HILL BOYS 73, HATTIESBURG 69: Center Hill reached its first 5A state boys championship game in school history with a 73-69 victory over Hattiesburg in the first semifinal game of the night.
Calvin Temple led the way for the 30-3 Mustangs with 28 points. Temple got help from Ken Lewis with 14 points and Kaeden Laws with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Center Hill led by as much as 15 points in the contest, but Hattiesburg chipped away at the lead. The Tigers could never catch up and the Mustangs won its school-record 30th contest.
“We should have been able to close them out earlier in the fourth quarter than we did,” said Center Hill coach Newton Mealer. “I think the pressure of playing in our first state championship game kind of got us down the stretch, but overall they stuck to the game plan and played really hard.”
Chris Lewis led Hattiesburg in scoring with 19 points, one of four Tigers in double figures. Lewis (10 rebounds) and Nick Walker (15 points, 16 rebounds) each racked up double-doubles in the loss.
OLIVE BRANCH BOYS 86, FOREST HILL 60: Olive Branch, looking to defend its 5A state championship won by beating Forest Hill last year, ousted the Patriots in convincing fashion 86-60 to reach to reach another rematch with Center Hill for the state title, this time on Friday night.
Joe Cooper led the way for the 26-7 Quistors with 21 points and DJ Jeffries scored 18. Cameron Matthews was the other Quistor in double figures with 12.
Olive Branch had a 18-7 lead after one quarter but the Patriots outscored the Quistors 19-17 in the eight minutes before halftime. Olive Branch pulled away in the second half which included the Quistors outscoring the Patriots 31-18 in the final eight minutes of the game.
Quistors coach Eric Rombaugh is now looking forward to Friday’s rematch against the Mustangs.
“Center Hill is a really good team and we felt like we’re the only ones that can stop them from winning the state championship,” Rombaugh said. “So that was our goal. Not only win it but stop them, so we’re excited to play them again.”
Olive Branch won two regular season meetings with the Mustangs, two of the three Center Hill losses this year, but the Mustangs edged the Quistors in the district championship game at Northwest Mississippi Community College.
HERNANDO GIRLS vs. TERRY: The last DeSoto County basketball team in the state semifinals is Hernando (26-6), a 43-40 winner over Tupelo in the state quarterfinals. They will face Terry (25-8) in a 4 p.m. game Wednesday at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Terry reached the state semifinals after a 46-39 win over Biloxi.
The winner of that game will play either Greenville or Pearl in the 6A state championship game Saturday night at 6 p.m.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.