(Photos by David Jenkins, Staff)
PORTAGEVILLE -- One year ago the Portageville Lady Bulldogs watched their district title hopes slip away on a last second shot by New Madrid County Central in the district semifinals. Monday night, Portageville was able to hold off the Lady Eagles 64-60 and will advance to their first district championship game in 20 years.
"I'm just proud of our girls," Portageville coach Eric Ellerbrook said. "Last year we got to the same point, the semifinals at district, and New Madrid beat us by two at the buzzer. That set with us all year long. We knew we were running into a talented New Madrid team and I thought our girls played well and under the pressure they were under I thought they handled it pretty well."
Just like last year's game, Portageville was never quite able to put away the Lady Eagles as NMCC continued to come back time after time.
"I preached all year long, leave it on the court, and that's what we did," said NMCC coach David Crockett. "I'm extremely proud of the ladies. They played as hard as they could play. (Portageville is) the No. 3 team in the state. The bad thing is somebody had to lose the game and this time it was us."
"We tried to keep them off balance and keep them guessing," Crockett said. "That is one thing I stress is defense and that is what we worked hard at and it kept us in the game."
"They did a good job of switching up the defense but at the same time our girls did a good job of chipping away and playing hard," Ellerbrook said. "At the same time our girls played hard on the defensive end too. Our girls just had a good effort tonight."
NMCC jumped out to an 11-9 lead after one quarter but Portageville battled back as Brittney Walker scored 10 points in the second quarter as the Lady Bulldogs went ahead 26-23 at the half. However, NMCC was able to tie the game at 31, setting the stage for Portageville's Courtney Chamberlain.
The junior scored five straight points, including a 3-pointer from the wing, that sparked a 10-4 run that put the Lady Bulldogs ahead 41-35 after three.
The Lady Eagles again started to chip away at the Portageville lead, only to see Chamberlain hit two more 3-pointers as the Lady Bulldogs built their largest lead at 57-45 with four minutes to play. But after a timeout, NMCC battled back once again.
"I told them we haven't given up all year and we weren't going to give up tonight," Crockett said. "I told them I was going to keep coaching until the end and I wanted them to play to the end and that's what they did."
Behind sophomore Shameika Williams, who finished with a game-high 32 points, NMCC cut the Lady Bulldog lead down to two, but Portageville was able to hit their free throws down the stretch to seal the game.
"She's just a sophomore so the future is still bright for her," Crockett said of Williams. "I'm excited for her. I told her in that locker room that she had nothing to hang her head about. Every one of them played their hearts out and that's all I can ask as a coach."
Jasmine Flennoy also added 11 points and 12 rebounds for NMCC, which finished the season at 10-15.
Portageville (24-3) placed four players in double figures, led by Walker's 16 and Chamberlain's 14. Senior Kellye Penn finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds while Jeleea Drake finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds.
"I'm just so proud of our girls," Ellerbrook said. "We're in the district finals for the first time since 1988 and this is just a big win for us."
The Lady Bulldogs will take on Kelly at 6 p.m. Thursday for the district championship.