It’s not how you start but how you finish.

That’s not just a saying to the North Forrest Lady Eagles. That’s reality, as they prepare for a trip to Jackson.

Staring at an 0-9 start to the season in mid-December, some players admit there was a little panic. But their head coach, Otto Crawford, didn’t flinch, simply for the fact that he believed in his girls.

“They are very, very hard workers, and they never quit,” Crawford said. “I can never just think of a point where they’ve ever quit.”

Crawford, known for his football mind at North Forrest, took the reigns of the program when Mike Papas resigned six games in. Having already served as the head coach on an interim basis last season in Papas’ absence, the experience wasn’t a new one for Crawford. He already had a relationship with the players and knew just what buttons to push in leading the team.

So the transition was really not a big deal for Crawford. There was a slight adjustment for his players though.

“Crawford is hard,” senior Rashel Jefferson said. “He knows working hard in practice will pay off in the game.”

Some of that mindset comes from football. It’s a different sport, but at the end of the day, you often have to be the toughest to succeed, whether on the field or the court.

“In football, you either have it or you don’t. The have factor is predicated on physical,” Crawford said. “You have to be a physical, physical person to play the game of football. And that’s what it relates to on the basketball court. You have to be physical out here also.”

According to Crawford, the turning point of the season for North Forrest came against Richton on Jan. 9. At the time, the Lady Eagles were 1-10 and in search of a much-needed win to get them going.

“We played in Richton,” Crawford said. “I’ll never forget it.”

Crawford’s Lady Eagles beat the Lady Rebels, 41-11, that night. Since then, the team is 12-1 in their last 13 games.

“It got better. But it also got harder and harder,” senior Kamesha Wiley said. “Just gotta have faith and come together as family.”

One of those 12 wins came with a victory over Collins to secure the program’s first district title in nearly two decades. Also, wins over Clarkdale and Amite County in the Class 2A playoffs.

With the latter, the Lady Eagles punched their ticket to Jackson for the 2A quarterfinals. It’s not the first time the program has done that. But Crawford and company couldn’t pinpoint exactly when it had happened last. Only that it had been a little while.

“We’re taking it as we’ve been there before. We’re going to take everything in stride,” Crawford said. “We know what’s at stake and the teams that we have to play. We’re gonna take it like it’s our last game. We’re excited for the opportunity and understand what’s going on this time of year.”

As pretty much celebrities around campus these days, Crawford’s players say they’re soaking up the moment and just enjoying the ride.

“To be able to say you’re going to Jackson is amazing,” Jefferson said.

But in their mind, there’s still plenty of work to be done. They are in fact only two wins away from playing for a state championship and three away from winning the whole thing.

“Right now, we’re really having a lot of fun. This has been a great experience to do this with North Forrest,” Wiley added. “We’ve come a long way and are taking it step by step and day by day.”

North Forrest will face Coahoma County Friday at 5:30 pm in the 2A quarterfinals. The game will be played on the campus of Jackson State.