Petal and Oak Grove renewed their basketball rivalry Friday night. Both Petal teams improved to 1-1 in Region 5-6A with wins.
Petal Lady Panthers 50, Oak Grove Lady Warriors 32
Leading into Friday, it had been nearly two months since the Petal Lady Panthers tasted victory. A 13-game losing skid, coupled with the adversity they faced in that span, made their 50-32 win over Oak Grove on Friday night all the more sweeter.
“I don’t think there’s a group in the state of Mississippi that’s battled as much adversity as our kids,” Petal coach Kotreece Bender said. “Injuries, concussions, sickness. There was one point in the year where we were playing with six people. We just kept trying to remind them to keep battling and growing through adversity.”
Most notably, the Lady Panthers have played their entire season without their lone senior, Myla Cox, who is recovering from an injury. In her absence, others, like sophomore Mackenzie Thomas, have had to step up.
Thomas did that and more on Friday, scoring a game-high 25 points to help the Lady Panthers collect their first win in the rivalry since the 2014-2015 season.
“She [Thomas] has pretty much has given us our identity with her toughness,” Bender said. “I can’t say enough about her athleticism and toughness. She’s big for us.”
Latoyia Clark added seven points for the Lady Panthers, who improved to 3-15 and most importantly 1-1 in Region 5-6A play.
“I’m really proud of them,” Bender added. “They’re starting to believe it.”
Oak Grove fell to 5-13 overall and 1-1 in Region 5-6A with the loss. The Lady Warriors were led by Janiya Revies’ 16 points.
Petal Panthers 59, Oak Grove Warriors 52
For a brief moment, Petal’s matchup on Friday night with rival and Region 5-6A foe Oak Grove felt like déjà vu to Panther coach Todd Kimble. Just like in Tuesday’s loss to Meridian, the Panthers scored the game’s first basket and followed with a sluggish stretch on the offensive end of the floor. Only this time, Petal weathered the storm to come out on top.
Behind the scoring of Don Avila (18 points) and Caleb McGill (17 points), the Panthers earned their fifth consecutive win over the Warriors dating back to the 2016-2017 season, 59-52.
After McGill put Petal up 2-0 early, Oak Grove answered with a 9-0 scoring run. The Panthers then responded with a 9-2 run, tying the contest at 11-11 in the second quarter. Led by the shooting of Jay Barnes, the Warriors retook control in the quarter and took a 26-19 lead into halftime.
Staring at the possibility of a second consecutive loss, Kimble says the message at the break was centered around passing the basketball. After three straight Oak Grove baskets to start the third quarter, the message seemed to get through to the Panthers, who clawed back from a double digit deficit and took a 38-37 lead into the fourth with a 17-5 scoring run.
“Our whole halftime conversation was the same thing. If we don’t run, the ball doesn’t move,” Kimble said. “Once we started moving the basketball, we’re moving their defense around, and then Caleb McGill’s wide-open and we’re getting him the ball where can finish.
“We just started doing the things we practice everyday.”
Kimble’s Panthers finished strong in the fourth, outscoring the Warriors 21-15 in the period to pick up the win and improve to 1-1 in Region 5-6A play and 14-2 overall.
Oak Grove fell to 1-1 in region play and 15-2 overall with the loss. The Warriors were led by Barnes’ game-high 20 points.