By Mike Talbert
JACKSON the Oxford Lady Chargers were feeling pressure facing Tishomingo County for the fourth time in the girls Class 4A State Tournament championship Friday.
So they applied some pressure of their own, and Tishomingo County's offense never had a chance. The Lady Chargers took away the passing lanes, forced 23 turnovers and beat the Lady Braves 65-36.
"It was always in the back of our minds that this might be their turn to win one. We wouldn't let that surface," Oxford center Lynndy Fitts said.
The first three meetings were close, one going to overtime and another decided by one point.
"They had a big crowd that really pumped them up," Oxford guard Nicki Johnson said. "They play a very emotional game. We had to step in there because we felt we had the better team. Defense is what won it for us."
This was the first state championship game for either team, although Oxford (33-2) had been to Jackson six times before. Tishomingo County (27-10), which lost the Division 1-4A championship to Oxford 61-53 in overtime and the North 4A title game 57-56 after losing a six-point lead, was making its first trip to Jackson.
Oxford coach Jeff Nelson said that playing Tishomingo County three times before made it easier to prepare. He knew what to expect.
"The key to the whole game was getting into their passing lanes and keeping them from what they were trying to do and putting them into our transitional game," he said.
It also kept Tishomingo County from doing what it has done much of the playoffs: apply some tight pressure of its own and control the tempo.
"They came out a little more intense than we were and took us out of our offense," Tishomingo County coach Larry Johnson said. "Our girls never quit, though, and I was proud of our team. The Oxford girls are probably the best team (of any classification) in the state."
Oxford took control of the game early when it went on a 14-2 run while forcing seven turnovers and allowing the Lady Braves just two shots. Oxford held a 22-10 lead with 3:30 left in the half. Tishomingo County never regained its composure.
Oxford dominated in every phase of the game, outrebounding the Lady Braves 39-21, yet no single player really stood out.
Fitts, who scored 13 points, and Johnson, who had 10, had their own favorite player, guard Leijuana Banks. She scored most of her 10 points off turnovers, and shut down Tishomingo County ball handler Christy Glidewell.
"We call her defense tenacicious and she stuck it to them," Johnson said.
Amanda Massengill was the only Lady Brave in double figures with 10 points. Three didn't finish the game: Sylvia Powell and Courtney Barnes fouled out trying to slow Oxford. Glidewell hurt her ankle diving for a loose ball and had to be carried off the court.
Nursing the hurt of the ankle and the loss, she said, "We are still proud of ourselves. People said we were not supposed to be here."