JACKSON — Neshoba Central's girls still have a shot at capping an undefeated season, but their semifinal win over West Jones had plenty of drama.
Behind the second-half play of Carly Keats, the Rockets survived a fierce rally from the Mustangs in a 60-57 win in the Semifinal Round of the MHSAA Girls Class 5A playoffs at the Mississippi Coliseum on Tuesday night.
Neshoba Central (32-0) will face Columbus for the Class 5A State Championship on Friday at 5 p.m.
“Our inability to play defense tonight was unacceptable," Neshoba Central coach Jason Broome said. "We hear talk about all the points and stuff, but this team is built around defense. I thought we played like we could just show up with 'Neshoba Central' on our jersey and win. At this stage you cannot do that.”
In the first half, it seemed as if it was going to be another Neshoba Central blow-out win.
The Lady Rockets jumped out to a 18-10 lead at the end of the first quarter and extended the lead to 35-20 at halftime.
In the second half, it was more back-and-forth.
West Jones trimmed the lead from 15 at halftime to nine headed into the fourth quarter. The Rockets seemed to have regained form, opening the final period on a 7-0 run to extend their lead out to 53-37. But West Jones scored the next 10 points to cut the lead down to 53-49 with 1:23 left in the fourth quarter.
A three-point play by Kailyn Willis with 29 seconds left gave the Lady Rockets a 58-53 lead, and Neshoba Central was able to hold on from there.
West Jones outrebounded Neshoba Central 51-31 and 26-7 on offensive rebounds.
“I felt like we wasted an opportunity to get better and find our groove in the Coliseum," Broome said. "We got absolutely killed on the boards. Now I feel like we must refine ourselves and establish the things that we do that got us here. At the end of the day, we’re playing for a state championship on Friday and we've got adjustments we need to make and play a lot better.”
Carly Keats had 16 points to lead Neshoba Central, while Veronica Williams added 13 points for the Lady Rockets.
“We just had to have a lot of communication and play together as team,” Keats said. “This game taught us that we have to trust each other as a team and play together as a team.
"I felt like we should have run them out of the gym, but we didn't. We've just got to move on and find a way to get better from it."
Asia Wilson had a game-high 24 points to lead West Jones, while Jayden Carr added 10 points for the Lady Mustangs (23-5).
“I felt like we were nervous in the first half, but the girls kept fighting and ended up giving us a chance late,” said West Jones coach Sharon Murray. “Second half we played solid, but just didn’t finish.”