Oak Grove junior Samantha Duncan was at a loss for words as she tried to explain what happened to the Lady Warriors in the second half Thursday against Meridian.
“I don’t know, turnovers, I guess,” said Duncan. “We didn’t give it our all in the second half like we did in the first half.”
It was a lot more than that, but the gist of it was that Oak Grove’s season – which began with such promise – is over far earlier than the Lady Warriors anticipated, as they lost to Meridian 52-45 in overtime in the Region 5-6A Tournament semifinals at the Petal High gym.
Meridian advanced to tonight’s 6 p.m. championship game against Hattiesburg, which defeated Petal 58-38 in the other semifinal.
“We lost momentum and got stale on offense,” said Oak Grove coach Mark Swindle. “Their board work was the difference in the game.”
It was a bitter end to a traumatic week that began with the Lady Warriors huddled in a hallway in terror as an EF4 tornado ripped up the OGHS campus Sunday while the team was having a practice session.
With the school’s gym out of commission, Oak Grove was forced to scramble for a place to practice in preparation for the tournament, which was postponed from Tuesday.
“We’ve been trying to get different places to practice,” Swindle said. “We were at USM on Tuesday, and Wednesday we were out here.
“You can always use that as an excuse, but when you’re up 10 at halftime, you have to put it away.”
No doubt about that.
Oak Grove, which finished 22-7 – after winning its first 16 games of the season – played a splendid first half, and led Meridian (22-4) 31-21 at halftime.
The Lady Warriors used a 9-0 run at the end of the first quarter to grab the lead, and got out in transition in the second quarter, finishing the second quarter with a pair of fast- break layups by Mahalia Gibson to cap an 11-2 surge.
Oak Grove converted 12 of 23 shots from the field in the first half, and were 3 of 7 from 3-point range. The Lady Wildcats, meanwhile, spent most of the first half trying to shoot the Lady Warriors out of their 2-3 zone, without much success.
“We were so open, that we had to take them,” said Meridian coach Patricia Walker. “We need to work on our outside shooting, so people won’t pack the zone on us.”
In the second half, though, Meridian scrapped that strategy and went to its bread-and-butter, the inside game of junior center Kayla Gordon and junior forward Miracle Dubose.
Gordon, especially, took over in the third quarter, scoring 10 points in the period, and finishing with 27 points and 11 rebounds for Meridian.
“That’s been our strength all year,” Walker said. “At halftime, we gathered our thoughts, and decided to go back to work on the inside. Our guards did a good job of penetrating the lane, and our big girls did the rest.”
Meridian also put the clamps on Oak Grove defensively, and the Lady Warriors played into the Lady Wildcats’ hands by taking the air out of the ball trying to hang onto a two-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Oak Grove only got five shots in the fourth quarter, including just one in the final four minutes of the period, and that came in the final seconds, after Meridian had tied the game.
“Their big girls each had 19 points when we played at our place,” Swindle said. “We played a zone in the first half, and it helped some, but in the second half it didn’t help much.”
Duncan led Oak Grove with 17 points, but 11 of those came in the first half.
“I think (all of the turmoil) affected us a lot,” Duncan said. “We hoped we could come home with a win for our school, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
The Lady Tigers advanced with a hard-fought 58-38 victory over Petal in their semifinal. Johnta Hughes led HHS (23-3) with 16 points and Ciarra Cherry led Petal (16-11) with 17.
* In the boys semifinals, Meridian and Hattiesburg advanced to tonight’s championship. The Wildcats used a big first half to knock off Petal 59-40, and the Tigers edged Oak Grove 66-62.
Dennis Miles scored 18 points to lead Meridian (23-5), and Devontae Brewster and Torlorf Thomas each had 17 for the Wildcats. Cannon Edwards had 17 points to lead Petal (14-14).
Tony Bridges led Hattiesburg (19-8) with 23 points, and Nick Vazquez had 23 points for Oak Grove (9-18).