By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
For the first time in four years, the Southeast Lauderdale girls basketball team defeated rival Choctaw Central, outscoring the Warriors 63-58 to claim the East Central Classic championship.
Needless to say, the Tigers were hungry for a win.
“This was a big game, because in the past three years I have been at Southeast, we had not won a game against Choctaw Central,” Southeast post player Jasmine Bush said. “It’s my senior year, so it was big to finally be able to beat them. It’s good just to prove that we can beat them, and that they are not unbeatable.”
The Tigers got off to a fast start, jumping off to an 11-2 run to begin the game. Southeast was able to utilize its post players early, taking advantage of seniors Bush and Crystal Clay inside for easy baskets to out power the Warriors in the paint.
“We have a lot of strength in the post,” Southeast head coach Joe Miller said. “They were big for us, but what was really key was we hit 13 of our 17 free throws. That is something we don’t always get, and it really helped us.”
Southeast continued to feed the post, carrying a 32-23 lead into the half. However, the Warriors would battle back in the second half, using their speed to pressure the Tigers into turnovers.
Choctaw Central took advantage of big-time shooting from beyond the arc, knocking in 3-pointers and chipping away at the Southeast lead.
“ We missed a lot of shots early and turned the ball over a lot in the first half,” Choctaw Central head coach Bill Smith said. “We got down by 11 points and we came back with some big 3-point shots.”
The Warriors continued slash away at the Tiger’s lead, cutting it all the way to 60-56 with less than two minutes to play. However, the Warriors missed their final eight shots of the game, losing for the first time this season.
“You live by the 3, you die by the 3” Smith said. “Southeast is a very good team, and we will get to see them four or five times this season.”
Clay and Bush shared MVP honors for the Tigers, as both recorded double-doubles on the night. Bush scored 16 points and 16 rebounds, while Clay tallied 13 points and 13 rebounds in the win. Tay Ruffin also scored a game-high 23 points on the night.
“We worked as a team tonight,” Clay said. “We got sisterhood on this team, and I love our sisterhood. We have good chemistry and we work hard together, I just love it.”
The win improves Southeast Lauderdale to 8-0 on the season. While Miller said the Tigers will continue to focus on one game at a time, the head coach cant help but notice he has something special in this year’s team.
“We could be very special,” Miller said. “This is one of the best teams we have had. We are off till Friday, so that will help us regroup and continue playing at a high level.”