Oak Grove’s regular season struggles feel like a distant memory after an emphatic win over Petal. From winning just six games to securing a home playoff game, the Lady Warriors are riding a roller coaster into Friday’s Region 5-6A title tilt with Meridian.
“When you’re so young and so inexperienced, it just takes time,” Oak Grove coach Mark Swindle said. “I wanted to go back to the success we had last year, but that’s not going to happen. It’s a process.”
The Lady Warriors were a win away from playing for a state championship last season. Their top five scorers from the team either graduated, transferred or, in the case of Alesha Temple, suffered a season-ending injury in the offseason.
“It’s been rough,” Swindle said.
But here they are still standing with an opportunity to go on another run.
“I’ve got a good bunch of young girls. They’ll be back, so we’ll be a lot better next year. But we’re going to play this year out and see what we can do.”
They’ll get a chance to do just that after securing both a postseason berth and a home playoff game with a 34-29 win over Petal in the opening round of the Region 5-6A Tournament on Tuesday.
After losing to the Lady Panthers by double digits twice in the regular season, the Lady Warriors broke through and won the matchup that mattered the most.
Petal struck first with a basket from JhaLana Jackson, but Oak Grove followed with a 13-3 scoring run to assert some early dominance. After the Lady Panthers cut the lead to 13-10 going into halftime, the Lady Warriors answered with a 17-3 run between the third quarter and midway through the fourth in taking a 30-13 lead.
Despite a late push from Petal, Oak Grove hung on for their first signature victory of the season.
“We started out 0-0 tonight,” Swindle said. “I don’t know if they believed it, but during the process of the game, we kept staying ahead, and I just saw it. I saw it in them, and they said ‘we can do this’. It was just exciting to watch their reaction to success.”
Kennidi Dean, Kristin Parham and Nataliya Magee led Oak Grove with six points apiece.
Defensively, the Lady Warriors were able to limit Petal’s Mackenzie Thomas-Lewis to zero points. For reference, Thomas-Lewis averaged 23 in Petal’s two wins over Oak Grove earlier this season.
“She dominates the game and is a great player,” Swindle said. “Once she gets the ball in her hands, it’s hard to stop her. And tonight, she had no drives to the basket. We did a really good job of containing her.”
Lauryn Myers led Petal with nine points in the loss.
Myers and the Lady Panthers (7-19) will face George County on Friday at 4pm in a consolation game.
Meanwhile, the Lady Warriors (7-19) will face host Meridian at 7pm for the Region 5-6A title. Win or lose, Oak Grove will host a home playoff game next week.