It was 25 years ago that John Stroud traveled to Jackson with the New Albany boys’ team and won a state championship. Now, Stroud and his Lady Bulldog squad became one step closer to capturing the title they have coveted for the last three seasons.
But it was not easy for the state’s top ranked team.
Down by as many as seven, New Albany fought from behind for their 4A semifinal win over South Jones, 57-52, on Monday.
“We just grinded that game out,” Stroud said. “We started playing harder in the second half, and our defense turned things around. South Jones is a good team and they’re very physical. We really haven’t seen anyone all year that played us man-to-man like that, so we had to get used to that.”
The Lady Braves took a 10-5 lead to the second quarter, and behind 10 first half points by Chelsea Phillips, saw their largest lead of the game at 24-17. Eight points from Micha Washington helped keep the Lady ‘Dawgs close, down 28-24 at the break.
“I was happy we were only down four at the half because it could have been a lot worse,” Stroud said. “That was probably he ballgame right there. We couldn’t play any worse and we were still only down four.”
Jazmine Spears scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half, including the basket that gave New Albany the 36-34 lead.
Holding on to the four-point lead, 44-40, going into the final frame, the Lady ‘Dawgs fought off one last run by South Jones, connecting on 7-of-10 free throws.
Washington finished with 20 points for New Albany (28-4), while Spears posted a double-double with 14 points, 12 rebounds. Kebrina Lucas added 11 points.
Keoysha Wilson led the Lady Braves (28-4) with 19 points, followed by 13 points from Phillips and 10 points from Khadejah Buxton.
The Lady Bulldogs will play in their second-straight 4A State Championship game on Friday, the game Stroud said they have been playing for all season. It will also be the final game for eight New Albany seniors, including Washington.
“We had a team good enough to win last year. That’s why we toughened the schedule up this year, went out of state for six games, so we’ve been getting ready for this game,” Stroud said.
“It’s very important to us,” Washington added. “We want to be able to leave and say we did it.”