It’s been a frustrating number of years for the Petal girls’ basketball team.
The 2021-22 season looked to be more of the same after assistant principal LuCina Taylor had to take over the head coaching job in October as the position suddenly opened up again.
But Taylor has helped the Lady Panthers persevere and slowly find success, which was the case in Petal’s 42-28 win over West Harrison on Tuesday night.
“I cannot compliment the girls enough on how they responded to a really challenging situation and to overwhelmingly positive,” Taylor said. “Has it had its challenges? Yes. It’s had moments of frustrations and those things, but there is lots of learning that is taking place. They have really been receptive to it.”
The win moves Petal to 6-7 on the year, which is the most wins the program has had in the last two years. While the Lady Panthers have responded to Taylor, who had previous head basketball coaching stints at Lumberton and Pascagoula, says her main goal has been for her team to simply be focused on execution.
“We just focus on what we are supposed to do,” Taylor said. “We are scouting and all of those things, but I want my girls focused on execution. We’ve had to use the season to get used to each other and get used to this system with the (coaching) change happening so soon before the season started. Having come off two weeks off and not playing, I was really pleased with the overall effort and execution. It was a good win for us tonight.”
In fact, Petal’s execution was the difference in the night. The Lady Panthers held just a 9-7 lead at the end of the first quarter, but according to Taylor, her team came together on their offensive execution and communicating defense and outscored the Hurricanes 9-4 in the second quarter to take an 18-11 lead at the half.
“I think most of it was just mentality,” Taylor said. “They decided that we were going to fix the things that we weren’t executing on offense and not really communicating on defense.
“We just had to regroup and make sure we were on the same page, make sure we were five playing as one and not playing as individuals.”
The Lady Panthers rode that momentum at the start of the third quarter as Petal went on a 10-1 run and built a 30-12 lead. West Harrison responded with a 9-0 run to narrow the game at 30-23, but the Lady Panthers’ defense held the Hurricanes to just five points in the fourth quarter and ultimately sealed the win.
“It stemmed from our defense when we went to that press,” Taylor said. “You get some turnovers, and so you get easy baskets.
“Collectively, I thought it started with our guard play with just being aggressive on the wings because what our post players do really depends on the tempo that is pushed by the guards. I think they started attacking the paint with our guards getting in with getting some rebounds, and playing some clean-up. Our post players have been strong all season, and I think it’s our strongest point. We scored a lot of points in the paint.”
Tayja Pittman led Petal in scoring with 11 points, while Charity Parks scored eight points.
“We are growing, and we just challenge ourselves every day to get better and get better every practice,” Taylor said. “If we are not successful from a win standpoint, then we find things to look at and improve on and prepare for with the next game.”
The Lady Panthers return to action on Friday against Meridian, with tip-off set for 6 p.m.