SPRINGVILLE — In a nip-and-tuck game from the opening tipoff, the Lady Cougars of South Pontotoc High made their last moves count in this 40-37, title-game win over the visiting Lady Falcons of Ingomar.
Soccer player Mattie Mills, after scoring a goal in the first half of the Lady Cougars’ 7-0 win over the visiting Lady Indians of Itawamba AHS at adjacent Horace Kitchens Field, made it to the South Pontotoc gym in time to dress out and play a little championship basketball during the South Pontotoc Tournament.
The Mills moment
With Ingomar leading 37-35, Mills — on a set play — knocked down a three-pointer from the left wing to put South up 38-37 with only 1:20 showing on the game clock.
“We had not ran that play in a while,” said Lady Cougar head coach Matt Waldrop.
“But we ran it to get Mattie the shot and she took it. The girls went out there and executed to perfection, and Mattie drilled a three at a crucial time.”
Mills knew she could do it, but she was not overconfident.
“It feels great,” Mattie said after nailing the big shot.
“I just shot it, and I was like ‘please go in’.”
Compared to the soccer win, this basketball game was for the South Pontotoc Tournament Championship.
“It is a lot better,” Mattie said, “because we got a trophy.”
“Obviously one shot doesn’t necessarily win the game,” Coach Waldrop said of the big three-pointer, “but it was a big one.”
There was still plenty of time for Ingomar to rally, but freshman Maddison Crudup hit two-of-four from the free throw line to give South Pontotoc a little cushion at 40-37 with just 26 seconds left to play.
“Maddison stepped up and made big free throws when it counted,” Waldrop declared, while noting that her success at the line eventually did make the difference.
“Yeah, it was tough,” the freshman upstart said after the game. Her thoughts at the charity stripe was much like a mirror image of teammate Mattie Mill’s. “Please go in. Please go in,” she echoed.
“This is my first trophy and in my ninth-grade year,” she added, “There’s more to come.”
Crudup led the Lady Cougars in scoring with a game-high 17 points.
The Lady Falcons had a final chance, but failed to hit a pair of three-pointers that would have tied the game in the final seconds.
A defensive battle
The South girls missed a large percentage of free throws in the fourth period. If 80 percent had gone down, “It wouldn’t have been close. It was atrocious, but if you’re not going to make any … make the last ones,” Coach Waldrop quipped. “It was that close.”
This was a defensive ballgame that saw Ingomar go up 10-8 in the first period, before South Pontotoc made a 10-6 run of the second to take a narrow 18-16 lead at the break.
The second half was much the same when Ingomar took a 28-27 lead into the fourth period where South made a 13-9 run for the win.
“We knew this was going to be a knock-down-drag-out for four quarters against a very scrappy, well-coached team,” Waldrop concluded.
The Coach’s first
After years of trying, this was Coach Waldrop’s first South Pontotoc Tournament trophy collar.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been a part of division titles, winning the Pontotoc tournament and the North Pontotoc Tournament, but this is the first South Pontotoc Tournament I’ve actually got to defend.
“There’s always been some close battles where we have lost by two points multiple times. So I was ready to win my own tournament at least once, you know.
“We are just thrilled to come away with the win. It took a lot of concentration there at the end to want to win that trophy and I’m very proud.”