Lady Bobcats capture second straight state championshipBy SHAWN WANSLEY,
SENATOBIA – Fifth-ranked Jones County Junior College has done it again.
The Lady Bobcats jumped out to a 16-2 lead midway through the first quarter and went on to whip Copiah-Lincoln 78-53 in the MACJC Tournament championship game here Thursday night at Howard Coliseum.
It was the second straight state title for head coach Missy Bilderback’s Lady Bobcats.
“I’m really proud of our team,” Bilderback said. “I thought we really raised the level of our play this week. We beat three really good basketball teams and played well.”
It marked the third straight decisive game of the tournament for Jones.
JCJC, now 23-3, opened the tournament with an 89-59 win over Itawamba and followed that up with a 77-53 decision over Holmes in the semifinals.
“We beat three really good basketball teams,” Bilderback said. “I thought Co-Lin was one of the hottest teams in the league and Itawamba is very dangerous. They have great guard play. Holmes has been playing great and they had some bigs that could give us trouble.”
The Lady Bobcats got off to exceptional starts in each game, outscoring each opponent by a 43-3 margin early in all three games combined. They led Itawamba 18-1 and Holmes 9-0, in addition to the hot start vs. Co-Lin.
“I’m just really proud of the way we elevated our play,” Bilderback said. “Our kids are just really good this time of year. They want to win and they are competitors and I’m really proud of the way they have stepped up.”
In Bilderback’s second season as head coach last year, the Lady Bobcats captured the state title at home in A.B. Howard Gymnasium. To be able to win it this season in a different environment was quite a feat.
“It’s a hard thing to win and to be able to come up here and win it on the road is awesome,” Bilderback said. “Last year, we had an advantage at home, but to be able to do this on the road is really special.”
Nique Cherry (Heidelberg) scored on the opening possession of the game and the Lady Bobcats were off and running again. An Alexis Tolefree (Conway, Arkansas) trey made it 16-2 with 4:02 left in the first quarter. Jones led 20-8 after the opening period.
The Lady Bobcats would take a 41-19 lead into the locker room at halftime when Camryn London (Birmingham, Alabama) scored with 13 seconds showing in the second quarter.
JCJC took its longest lead of the game at 54-23 with 3:46 left in the third quarter when Mackenzie Thompson (East Rankin Academy) made a 3-pointer from left wing. The Lady Bobcats led 58-32 after three quarters.
The closest Co-Lin got in the final period was 65-45 with 5:57 remaining on a T’Kyra Hicks’ basket.
Tolefree led JCJC with 21 points, Cherry had 19 and Chrystal Ezechukwu (Stone Mountain, Georgia) added 10.
Hicks had 18 points and Kyeonia Harris added 10 for Co-Lin, 22-4.
The Lady Bobcats, 23-3, will now compete in the Region 23 Tournament March 6-9 at Mississippi College. JCJC is set to play Northwest at 3 p.m. Wednesday. The official tournament bracket will be released on Friday.
The winner of the Region 23 Tournament qualifies for the NJCAA Division I National Tournament March 19-24 in Lubbock, Texas.
JCJC won the region last year and went 2-1 in nationals.
Bilderback said winning the region is the goal now, but she knows it will be tough.
“The target is on your back and you are getting everybody’s best shot,” she said. “I’m proud of our consistency and our daily work and I’m just excited for them that they can be rewarded with a state championship.
“But we have got one more to go because we really want that region. We are going to give them a day or so off and go back to work and see if we can’t get ourselves back out to Lubbock.”
Thursday’s victory marked the seventh MACJC title in women’s basketball for JCJC and it was the Lady Bobcats’ third championship in the last five years.
The Lady Bobcats have won state titles in 1947-48, 2000-01, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2013-14, 2016-17 and 2017-18.