GAUTIER - Zion Morgan scored 19 points to lead the Pascagoula girls past Long Beach 65-27 in the opening round of the Mississippi Class 5A Region 8 girls tournament Monday.
With the win, the Panthers (23-6) will face the winner of Tuesday's West Harrison (20-2) and Gautier contest, which tips off at 6 p.m. in Friday's tournament final. The Bearcats (5-17) will face the loser of the game between the Hurricanes and Gators in the consolation game. The consolation game is also set for Friday.
The top three teams in the region advance to the state tournament with the loser of the consolation game ending its season in Gautier.
Morgan and Alexis McBeath scored nine points each in the first half as the Panthers went into the locker room with a commanding 31-12 lead at the half.
Behind Allanah Turner, who scored eight in the third quarter, including completing a rare four-point play with six minutes left in the period, brought Long Beach to within 14, 39-25, midway through the period. Morgan, though, answered for Pascagoula with 10 points in the quarter as the Panthers stretched their lead to 29 points, 53-24, at the end of the third quarter.
Bearcats coach Janet Nash noted her team lost to Pascagoula during the regular season 81-46 on Jan. 15 and, four days later, 67-35.
"We knew what to expect," Nash said.
Long Beach is expected to play Gautier (1-17) Friday in the elimination game. The Bearcats beat Gautier both meetings, although the Jan. 12 match at Gautier was close with the Bearcats pulling out a 32-28 win. Gautier comes into the tournament off its lone win of the season, an overtime 30-28 win at Stone County Feb. 9.
"We are going to have to come here and pull together as a team," Nash said of Long Beach's challenge Friday in the elimination game. "If we can come together as a team, we feel confident of our chances."
Pascagoula coach Carolyn Whitehead said she was glad her team would advance to the state tournament.
"We are in the playoffs," she said. "It's nice to be ready to represent Pascagoula in the state playoffs."
However, Whitehead said that any accolades won by the Panthers over the course of the season were in the past.
"I told the girls that everything we've done since the summer has been preparing us for this moment," Whitehead said. "You went 22-6 during the regular season. It was a great season. Congratulations. None of that matters now."
McBeath and Chabreyia McMillian each finished with 13 points for the Panthers.
Turner finished with 14 points to lead the Bearcats. Nicole Brock added eight points for Long Beach.