(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
ORAN -- After three seasons where they struggled to field a varsity team, the Scott County Central Bravettes have had quite a turnaround in head coach Matt Limbaugh's first year at the helm.
Their biggest win yet came on Thursday when the Bravettes overcame an early double-digit deficit against Charleston for a 109-89 overtime win to claim the Scott-Mississippi Conference championship,
"They could of easily given up after a slow start at the beginning of the game," Limbaugh said of his team. "I definitely credit them for staying tough and having faith in themselves, which is what we try to preach the entire season.
"I'm very proud of the effort and it's a great win."
Much like their semifinal contest against Oran, the Lady Bluejays were able to ride a hot start to a 10-point lead just five minutes into the game.
Slowly but surely, Scott Central clawed out of their hole and midway through the third quarter they knotted things back up. The Bravettes once again trailed by five entering the fourth, but scored three straight baskets to take a one-point advantage.
Ann Dennis and Mikaela Blissett fueled a high scoring fourth quarter for Scott Central with 11 points each as they matched the Lady Bluejays shot for shot down the stretch.
In a similar fashion, Charleston got 14 points from E'Neikqua Ewing in the final eight minutes of regulation with Cheyenne Randle pitching in another eight points to keep Charleston within a basket in the closing seconds of regulation.
Ewing scored to put her team ahead 83-82 with 25 seconds remaining only to see Dennis convert a 3-point play eight seconds later.
With one possession left to force an extra frame, Sierra Frazier passed to Randle for an open layup to force overtime with eight seconds to play.
"Ann made some big shots there for us down the stretch," Limbaugh said. "It would have been great to get it over with in regulation, but it was good for the girls to stay positive even through the overtime period and come out and continue to guard."
Unfortunately for the Lady Bluejays, as they fought to stay alive in the final minutes of regulation came a slew of fouls that forced several starters out of the game.
This included leading scorer Ewing, who picked up her fifth foul in the closing seconds of regulation. In all, Ewing, Juwanna Walker and Dazique Gillespie would foul out by the end of the contest leaving Charleston without three starters who combined for 42 of their points.
Without their go-to offensive player in Ewing, Charleston struggled from the start in overtime. The Bravettes opened on a 5-2 run to force a Lady Bluejays timeout.
The stoppage in play didn't appear to help Charleston as they sent Scott Central, who was already in the double bonus, to the free throw line four times in under a minute.
The Bravettes converted on 5 of 8 free throw attempts to pull away 95-89 with 2:19 to play. A few turnovers from Charleston followed which allowed Blissett and Dennis to hit a couple quick jumpers, pushing their lead to 10 points.
Scott Central's press continued to force the Lady Bluejays into turnovers down the stretch. Holding Charleston without a basket in the final 2:30 of the contest, the Bravettes secured the title.
"We knew were weren't going to come in here and beat Scott Central in a blowout," Charleston head coach Josh Thompson said. "We knew we'd have to come in here and fight, scrap and claw. That 10-point lead early was great. Our girls were fired up, ready to play. We just couldn't execute down the stretch."
Limbaugh credited his girls getting Ewing out of the game making their march during overtime a lot easier.
"Ewing and Frazier our their glue," he said. "Once she comes out then that's tough for them to be able to get on the press.
"We try to pressure up Frazier a little more to try and force the other guards to dribble. Luckily it worked today."
Frazier was forced to fight through injuries throughout most of the second half, yet still had a career night by leading to Bluejays with 37 points. She scored 23 of those in the first half and hit three of the Lady Bluejays six 3-pointers on the night.
"I'll tell you it's the best game she's ever played," Thompson said of Frazier. "She's out there cramping, crying and just will not come out. She just kept fighting."
Ewing and Randle both had 21 points while Gillespie finished with 17 while hitting three shots behind the arc.
For the Bravettes, Blissett finished with 37 points, which included 17 in the fourth quarter and overtime. Dennis was equally important down the stretch, scoring 15 of her 25 points in the same time span.
Johniqua Fort had 23 points while Derien Ditto and Abby Ross scored 11 points each.
The win moves the Bravettes to 7-4 on the season and was their first appearance in the Scott-Mississippi Conference Tournament championship game since 2007, when they lost to Delta.
SCOTT CENTRAL (109) -- Mikaela Blissett 37, Johniqua Fort 23, Derien Ditto 11, Ziaire Davis 2, Abby Ross 11, Ann Dennis 25. FG 42, FT 29-50, F 14. (3-pointers: Fort 1. Fouled out: none.)
CHARLESTON (89) -- Sierra Frazier 31, Juwanna Walker 4, Cheyenne Randle 21, E'Neikqua Ewing 21, Dazique Gillespie 17, Elaysa Henderson 1. FG 36, FT 11-17, F 34. (3-pointers: Frazier 3, Gillespie 3. Fouled out: Walker, Ewing, Gillespie.)