JACKSON - "It seems like a long time ago," said New Site Head Coach Byron Sparks following his Lady Royals 55-50 Class 2A state championship victory over defending state champion Calhoun City Friday at the Mississippi Coliseum.
Actually, it's been three years since New Site traveled to Jackson and lost the title game to Ingomar and nine since the Lady Royals' last state championship when they defeated Walnut.
Until Friday that represented the lone state championship in a storied New Site Lady Royals history.
Senior guard Ivy Loden, the smallest player on the court, who plays like the tallest, sealed the title for New Site when she came up with a steal and a rebound off a missed free throw, all in the final 20 seconds. She scored the game's final three points, all from the free-throw line, and had trouble putting into words the emotion she was enjoying following the win.
"It's a feeling I can't describe," said the catalyst. "We've been dreaming of this day since we lost the title game three years ago. I knew I had to get that big rebound there at the end and then convert the free throws. Coach Sparks emphasizes free throws every day and we knew we'd need most of them in this game because they (Calhoun City) are a great, quality team both offensively and defensively."
Game Most Valuable Player Hannah Campbell, a Northwest Mississippi Community College signee, once again led her team with a game-high 19 while adding six rebounds, five coming on the defensive end to initiate New Site fast breaks.
"It's the best feeling in the world," said Campbell of the state title victory. "We have talked about this all year ... well, really for three years now. We knew we had the experience and the players to win it, but we also knew it was going to be a battle because Calhoun City is tough and they were defending state champions for a reason."
The Lady Royals trailed 6-2 less than two minutes into the contest, but as is their custom, rallied with solid defense and good shot selection. The Lady Wildcats taller inside duo of 6-2 Quay Baily and 5-10 Makynzy Campbell gave New Site problems early on, although Sparks said his team defended the paint much better in the second half.
"We knew going in that was their strength and those two tall girls are really quick and physical," he said. "They gave us problems in the first half, but we adjusted some things at halftime and I thought we did a much better job on them in the second half."
As evidence of the inside efficiency of the Lady Wildcats inside game, they shot 40 percent from the floor in the first half, but that number was 35 percent for the game. On the other hand, New Site was extremely efficient in both halves, shooting 50 percent in the first half and 46 percent overall.
"We settled down there and I thought we did a good job answering most of the game when they (Lady Wildcats) pulled closer, we would hit a big basket or free throw in response to that. It was a great game and I'm just really proud for all our girls because they definitely deserve this title. I mean, they are something like 65-4 the past two years. They work hard every day and play really well together."
New Site, down 6-2, responded with a 6-0 run to take an 8-6 lead and never relinquished. Calhoun City trailed by eight twice and never got closer than one on two occasions.
The game could have gone either way, but on this day the Lady Royals were up for the challenge.
"We really battled on the boards," Sparks said. "When Calhoun City would make a run and get close our girls never dropped their heads and gave up. They kept battling because that's their thing, it's what they're all about. New Site is a close-knit community and that is what these girls represent. They are a tight-knit team who loves each other and playing with each other."
With New Site controlling the tempo in the second half, Lady Wildcat sharp-shooter Conley Langford went to work drilling a pair of threes while adding a layup, all in the third quarter.
She didn't score another point the rest of the way.
Lady Royals junior post player Lily Whitley had a big game on the boards, pulling down 13 rebounds to go along with a solid eight points, most coming on put-backs.
"That's the thing about this team, everyone wants to talk about Hannah, and rightfully so," said Sparks, "but we have others like Lily and Saydee Taylor and Emma Johnson who scrap for rebounds and steals and take charges. They do whatever it takes. So if Hannah is having an off night, we have a lot of players who can step up and make plays."
The coach paused for a second, the added, "That's what makes this team so good."
Loden finished in double figures with 15 for New Site, which finishes their championship season 33-2. They were also Division 1-2A regular season and tournament champions.
Calhoun City finishes the year 25-2. They also are 86-6 over the past three years.
2A state championship
New Site 55, Calhoun City 50
Leading scorers: (NS) Hannah Campbell 19, Ivy Loden 15, Lily Whitley 8; (CC) Quay Bailey 14, Conley Langford 11, Nashira Jennings 10