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By DANNY P. SMITH
CRAWFORD - All it took was one statement from head coach Randy Brooks and the seniors for the East Oktibbeha Lady Titans were ready to play.
Brooks motivated Shondra Nichols enough for her to score 31 points and the Lady Titans defeated the South Leake Lady Wildcats 66-46 in the first round of the Class A South State Tournament Monday night.
Nichols scored 14 of her points in the first half as East Oktibbeha took a 32-19 halftime advantage and never looked back.
"I'm a senior so I didn't want to go home yet," Nichols said. "I want to go all the way."
Brooks said the Lady Titans were effective in the three areas he has stressed since he got into coaching in 1989 and that's play tough defense, take good shots and take care of the basketball.
Nichols and fellow senior Kelcie Lanier combined for 47 of East Oktibbeha's 66 points.
"It was an emotional night for our seniors," Brooks said. "I told Nichols that this is the last time they'll wear the uniform in this gym ever in their life so it was time for them to step up and they did a good job of stepping up. I'm proud of the play of my seniors."
After the Lady Wildcats jumped out to an 8-4 lead, the Lady Titans went on a 15-0 run spanning the next 3 minutes down the stretch of the first quarter and early in the second frame to take a 19-8 advantage.
South Leake closed the gap to 19-13, but East Oktibbeha had another scoring spurt on baskets by Lanier, Nichols and Quanisha Doss to go back in front 25-13 at the 3:05 mark of the second quarter.
From that point until the end of the first half, the two teams traded scores with the only difference being a three-point field goal by Nichols as the Lady Titans held a 32-19 lead at the intermission.
That's when East Oktibbeha officials honored the senior players and managers of both the girls and boys basketball teams. The Titans take on Thomastown in the first round of the Class A South State Tournament tonight.
The Lady Titans improved their record to 19-9 and travel to Bogue Chitto Thursday afternoon to continue South State play.
Nichols hopes the momentum of the victory against the Lady Wildcats will continue for East Oktibbeha against the winner of the Bogue Chitto-Mount Olive game.
"We're going to play our hearts out and give it all we've got," Nichols said. "We practice hard at practice every day and we come to the game and show up to play."
Following Nichols in the scoring column for the Lady Titans were Lanier with 16 points and Doss with nine points.
South Leake girls coach Carl Hathorn said it's going to take a very good team to knock off East Oktibbeha.
"The one team that I've seen that could give them some trouble would be Ethel," Hathorn said. "The thing about East Oktibbeha is they have size. They have the skills to handle the basketball and they can go inside. We couldn't matchup with them size-wise so we tried to out-run them."