Clarksdale girls open playoffs with win in Hall’s absence, beat Itawamba 44-29
By Josh Troy
Two upperclasswomen stepped up for Clarksdale High School in the absence of their top scorer to lead their team to a first-round playoff victory Monday night. The Lady Wildcats (24-2, 8-0) earned a 44-29 win at home against Itawamba Agricultural High School.
Sophomore post player Caitlin Hall was not injured, but she was unable to be at Monday night’s game. However, senior forward Janya Walker stepped up with 19 points for Clarksdale, while junior guard Shacora Jurden followed with 15.
Clarksdale will face South Pontotoc at 6 p.m. Thursday with a trip to the Class 4A girls basketball State Tournament at Mississippi Valley State University and then the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson on the line.Jurden said everyone stepped up for the Lady Wildcats in Hall’s absence in the win Monday.“We played hard,” she said. “We gave our all. We’re still missing a player, but we stepped up.”
Jurden knew she had to step up Monday since it was a playoff game, and a loss would have meant elimination for her team.“We didn’t want to go home crying,” she said. “We didn’t have any choice but to step up.”Lady Wildcats coach Greg Wilson praised how his team stepped up in Hall’s absence.“I am so proud of the girls tonight for how they played, the heart and the effort they showed,” Wilson said. “I thought we played from the opening tip to the final buzzer, and one of the things we were telling them tonight was we were going to lay it on the line, and they laid it on the line, and we came out with a victory.”
In the Region 3-4A District Tournament games at Yazoo City last week, opponents focused on stopping Hall. When Clarksdale defeated Senatobia 33-15 in the district tournament semifinals, Hall was held to 4 points in the first half. However, sophomore guard Sylenthia Earl and sophomore shooting guard, and small forward Janterria Logan each connected on one 3-pointer in the first quarter to get things going. Hall was held to 4 points in the 28-19 loss to Gentry in the district tournament championship.
Wilson felt Hall’s teammates stepped up in previous games when they double-teamed her, and it prepared them to play well in her absence on Monday. “I think it opened up some things to our advantage. One of the things that opened up was we were able to drive and penetrate a little more tonight,” Wilson said. “I thought we shot the ball really well tonight.”
Wilson said he does not know if Hall will be available for Thursday’s game.
Clarksdale jumped out to an 8-3 lead on Monday at the end of the first quarter.
A 3-pointer from senior shooting guard Maya Chestnut extended the advantage to 11-3 with 7:40 remaining in the first half. But the Lady Indians went on an 8-2 run to cut Clarksdale’s lead to 13-11 with 1:03 remaining in the first half. A Jurden 2-pointer with 47 seconds to play in the second quarter put Clarksdale ahead 15-11.
Itawamba Agricultural cut Clarksdale’s lead to 15-14 in the opening minute of the third quarter, but the Lady Wildcats came back with 11 unanswered points to extend their advantage to 26-14. Walker scored 6 points on two, 3-point field goals during Clarksdale’s 11-0 run. Jurden scored the other 5 points during the run on a 3-pointer and 2-point field goal. The Lady Wildcats led 31-16 with 3:48 to play in the third quarter after a Jurden 2-point field goal.
The Lady Indians came back with a 9-2 run of their own to cut Clarksdale’s lead to 33-25.
Clarksdale came back with 8 unanswered points to its own to take a 41-25 with 3:33 remaining in the game. Walker capped off the run with a 3-point play. She said it was crucial for the Lady Wildcats to be able to hang on to their leads when Itawamba Agricultural cut into their lead. “We really had to pace ourselves because we were already ahead, so we had to pace ourselves,” she said.
Clarksdale scored 33 and 19 points in the two district tournament games but put 44 on the board Monday night. “We came in with a different game plan and wanted to speed things up and go a little more up-tempo,” said Wilson, adding Clarksdale played a different style on Monday. “We’ve been practicing on something, and we hadn’t shown a lot this year. And we went to it tonight, and it helped us out.” Chestnut finished with 7 points, while junior guard Ramiyah Brown contributed 4.
PHOTO CUTLINE: Clarksdale senior forward Janya Walker (11) takes the ball to the basket against Itawamba Agricultural High School. Josh Troy photo