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JACKSON — It’s been a long road for the Lake Hornets, but they’ve earned the right to see this 2022 season to completion.

In a result most would consider an upset, the Hornets knocked off the reigning 2A Champion New Site Tuesday morning to advance to the 2A Championship.

They’ll face Belmont in the title game at 1 p.m. Friday.

“Our kids played hard today,” Lake coach Maurice Bowie said. “I told them before the game that this (New Site) team had the history and tradition. We had to do a good job of contesting their three-point shooters and boxing out on rebounds. We knew they were going to make a run, because they have the pedigree to do it. We just had to stay the course and do what we were supposed to do.”

The game was fairly tight throughout, but Lake (23-3) came out hot and jumped ahead to a 15-7 lead early. They caught a huge break with 48 seconds left in the first quarter, when New Site star forward Lily Whitley went down with an apparent knee injury that kept her from returning.

With Whitley on the bench, the Hornets smothered the Lady Royals' remaining scoring threats. As a result, New Site shot a paltry 17 percent in the first half and 25 percent in the second half.

Meanwhile, the three-headed scoring attack from Tra’Shayla Wilson, Laneisha Palm and D’Nara Barton went to work for Lake. Those three combined for 41 points, with Wilson taking over in the fourth quarter on her way to a 15-point performance.

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Lake led it 28-20 at the half and stretched that to 32-20 to start the third quarter, but New Site fought back and took a one-point lead early in the fourth quarter.

The Lake defense came alive after that — the Lady Hornets finished the game on an 8-1 run and New Site didn’t score a field goal in the final 3:30 of the game.

The Lady Hornets didn’t shoot incredibly well from the free throw line — they made 15 of 31 shots — but 12 of those came in the fourth quarter.

“Coach told us before we got out there ‘Don’t reach, hold your hands up and make your free throws,” Wilson said. “We made our free throws when it mattered, and that was the difference.”

The loss was a tough blow for New Site, which had its eyes fixed on a second-straight Class 2A MHSAA Championship.

The Lady Royals’ Chloe Chism recorded the double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Gracie Yates chipped in 11 points. But there was no replacing Whitley, who was the lone returning starter from last year’s championship squad.

“She’s our leading scorer and rebounder, and it’s hard to replace that,” Royals coach Byron Sparks said. “But I was incredibly proud of the way the rest of the team responded. We gave ourselves a chance there — we had the lead in the second half — but we didn’t take advantage of some of our opportunities and Lake did.”