The Pillow girls basketball team couldn’t quite overcome the loss of its leading scorer in Saturday’s North AAAA championship game against rival Leake Academy.
With the Lady Mustangs up 19-15 midway through the second quarter, senior star Kaylee Jones went down with a knee injury that silenced the lively crowd at Stribling Gymnasium. The visiting Rebels rattled off a 10-0 run and never trailed again, dealing Pillow its first home defeat in three years, 63-58.
Despite the absence of Jones, a Mississippi College signee, the matchup between the two powerhouse programs featured its typical late-game drama. Led by senior forward Caroline Brock (18 points), the Lady Mustangs refused to go away quietly in the second half.
“We knew their intensity was going to be super high and that we would need to match it,” Brock said. “And we were. But then when Kaylee went down, we had to take it up another level to pick up that slack from losing the offense that Kaylee has.”
Brock scored five quick points in the third quarter before exiting with three fouls. That’s when junior guard Sarah Presley Howard (10 points, two steals) picked up the slack, converting a layup and a contested floater to bring Pillow within four points. Kayla Brown found Julia Love Lyon for a corner 3-pointer, but Leake’s Miriam Prince (game-high 27 points) responded with a pull-up dagger from deep that extended the Rebels’ advantage to 47-43 entering the final frame.
“I think we lost focus a lot when (Jones) went down,” Sarah Presley Howard said. “We were in the locker room like, ‘We got to forget about it. We got to act like she’s still on the court. We got to drive to the goal, get fouled and start scoring again.’”
Freshman Elise Howard started the fourth quarter with a putback, setting the stage for her older sister, Sarah Presley, to tie the game at 47-47 with six minutes to play. Emeri Warren regained the lead for Leake (31-2) with her third 3-pointer of the game, but Lady Mustangs senior sharpshooter Anna Taylor Hudson answered with a triple of her own to even the score again at 50-50.
Morgan Freeny hit a clutch 3 for the Rebels to spark a 7-2 run, but Pillow (21-4) still had one last rally left in the tank. Brock took over, powering her way inside for four straight points that trimmed the deficit to 57-56 with under two minutes remaining. Then Sarah Presley Howard got a tough runner to fall, making it a one-point game again with 34.9 seconds on the clock.
“It was a team effort out of all of us,” head coach Durwin Carpenter said. “When Kaylee went out, we had different girls stepping up, they really did a great job to give us an opportunity to win. I’m very proud of the girls.”
After a pair free throws put Leake ahead 61-58, Carpenter called a timeout and drew up a play to free Hudson — his best outside shooter with Jones out — for a game-tying attempt from the corner. Hudson used a pair of screens to get open for a good look, but it was off the mark and the Rebels escaped with the victory.
“I think we’re going to see them again next week, hopefully with a different outcome,” said Brock, referring to the state tournament scheduled for next week. “Knowing we can get revenge lights a fire under us.”
• Contact Riley Overend at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @OverendOut on Twitter.