Erica Harris and her Hinds AHS teammates learned in January about a legislative bill that could possibly close the Utica school down.
“We just want to save our school,” said Harris.
That will be left up the state legislature.
But on Friday, it was Harris who was oh-so-instrumental in saving the Lady Bulldogs’ season.
The 5-foot-3 junior guard scored 22 of her game-high 25 points in the second half to help lead Hinds AHS to a hard-fought 52-47 victory over Ashland in the semifinals of the girls MHSAA Class 1A State Tournament.
“I knew my teammates needed me so I had to step up,” said Harris. “It was time.”
Hinds AHS, ranked No. 2 in Class 1A, will play top-ranked Byers on Thursday at 1 p.m. in the championship game.
The Lady Bulldogs are seeking their first state title.
It would cap off what has been an emotional year for the Hinds AHS family after the introduction of Senate Bill 2636 that would consolidate the school into the Hinds County School District.
“I think it unified us more,” said Hinds AHS coach Bruce Baker. “When you are faced with that type of thing and you are fighting for your school, it brings you together.
“It helps you understand just how much your school means to you. When you face that type of adversity, you can persevere through anything.”
Baker’s bunch had to persevere a gritty effort from Ashland, the lone girls’ team with a losing record to make it to the Big House this year.
The Lady Blue Devils went on an 8-0 run to take a 42-41 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
But that’s when Harris took over.
She drained a deep 3-pointer to stop the run. A minute later, she knocked down another trey to stretch Hinds’ lead to 49-42.
“She showed up and did an excellent job,” said Baker. “I have seen her do things like that before. After she made that first three, there was noting else to be said. Just put it in her hands and leave her alone.”
Sophomore Octavia Barnes chipped in 15 points to go with her 11 rebounds and six steals. Like Harris, she was plenty motivated.
“There’s no other school I want to play for,” said Barnes. “Hinds is my heart. This is where I want to stay.”
Jaliyah Baldwin scored 16 points for the Lady Blue Devils. Ashland (11-16) was one game from the championship despite winning just six games during the regular season .
“These ladies played their hearts out and left it all on the floor,” said Ashland coach Ayesha Brooks. “People didn’t think we would make it this far.
“But with heart and determination like my ladies have, there’s no telling what we can do.”
Ashland was making its first trip to the State Tournament since 1967.
“A lot of teams would overlook a team based on their records,” said Baker.
“But as you can see, you can throw the records out when you get here.”
Baker now turns his attention to two-time defending state champion Byers in a matchup of the top-ranked teams in Class 1A.
“They are well-coached team and diverse and athletic,” Baker said. “They are equipped one through five. In order for us to try to win our first state championship, we have to go through them. Let’s match one vs. two and see what we get.”