Members of the East Central girls basketball team literally bounced off the walls and pounded on the table outside the visitor’s locker room Friday night at Pass Christian.
The Lady Hornets had good reason to celebrate.
East Central took another crucial step toward knocking Pass Christian off its perch atop Region 8-4A with a dramatic 52-51 victory on the road.
It was East Central’s first victory over Pass Christian in three years.
“It feels amazing,” East Central senior forward Madison Pearson said. “We were pumped up. We haven’t beaten Pass in so long. It just felt good to finally beat them.”
A week ago, East Central knocked of its other main threat in the region, Moss Point, on Sania Wells’ late 3-pointer for a 44-43 victory on the road.
With a 15-1 overall record and a 3-0 mark in region play, East Central is suddenly the team to beat for the top seed after handing Pass Christian its first region loss since the Lady Pirates fell 42-37 at Moss Point on Jan. 7, 2017.
“The good Lord has been good to us,” East Central coach Wes Brewer said. “We haven’t been playing our best, but he’s still shining on us. To go on the road and get this win is phenomenal. It’s a credit to the girls’ hard work. We got down early and had to fight back. The kids didn’t panic.”
Friday night’s contest featured an intense finish that had both teams’ fans revved up in the final moments.
Pass Christian senior point guard Cayla Obillo, an Alcorn State signee, hit a 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining to cap a quick 5-0 run and tie the game at 51-51.
On the ensuing inbound pass, the Lady Pirates fouled Wells to send her to the free throw line with 7.7 remaining. She hit the first free throw, but a missed attempt on the second led to a scramble for the rebound.
Pass Christian was quickly rewarded a timeout, but many East Central fans quickly jumped to their feet to protest the call. They believed that Pass Christian was given the timeout before gaining possession of the ball. The loudest East Central fan was promptly ejected from the gym.
“It was frantic. It was intense,” Pearson said of the game’s finish.
Pass Christian quickly worked the ball down the court on the inbound pass, but Obillo’s 3-pointer was just off the mark as time ran off the clock.
“I’m just replaying it in my head,” Pass Christian coach Greta Ainsworth said. “If we hit our free throws, we’re not in that situation.”
Pass Christian, which dropped to 18-2 overall and 3-1 in region play, received 14 points from both Obillo and senior Emory Benoit. Obillo also did a nice job of finding her teammates, pitching in eight assists.
Wells, an Auburn signee, led the Lady Hornets with 22 points and Pearson contributed 11.
Wells had a key play late on defense when she made a diving steal of an inbound pass and relayed the ball back to a teammate to set up two free throw attempts for Pearson, allowing the Hornets to take a 49-44 lead with 45.7 seconds remaining.
“They were setting a screen and I saw Obillo,” the senior said. “I was like, ‘They are going to pass it to her, I know.’ I slowly crept over there and lucky me, they passed it to her. I was right there.”
East Central started off hot last year, but lost momentum in the second half of the schedule to finish 14-11. The Lady Hornets seem destined for a much better finish this season.
“We’ve been talking about a state championship since we were freshman,” Wells said. “It’s our senior year so we’ve got to make this year count for us.”
Pass Christian boys 46, East Central 41: The Pirates improved to 4-15 overall and 2-4 in region play behind 13 points from senior L.J. Henderson.
Pass Christian held the Hornets (3-10, 0-4) to just 9 points in the first half and put the game out of reach with a 20-point third quarter.
Micah O’Quin had a game high of 19 points for East Central.