By DANNY P. SMITH
Neither sleet, freezing rain nor the Weir Lady Lions could prevent the East Oktibbeha Lady Titans from finishing with an undefeated division record.
Senior Shondra Nichols scored 23 points and pulled down nine rebounds as the Lady Titans defeated the Lady Lions 52-51 and ran the table in Class A, Region 5 with a 10-0 record.
Nichols said East Oktibbeha coach Randy Brooks warned the team this week that Weir would not be an easy opponent to end the division schedule against.
"We knew Weir was not going to come in and lay down for us," Nichols said. "We wanted to come out and play our heart out. That's what I did. I didn't want to lose and spoil our (undefeated division) record. I kept my composure and helped my team to a win."
Brooks was glad to see the Lady Titans capture the division championship and said it should not be something uncommon for East Oktibbeha, which stands with a 17-8 overall record.
"Our student-athletes and our girls have been playing well," Brooks said. "We haven't done anything that hasn't been expected of us. We're supposed to be competing for district championships around this school."
After taking a 34-20 lead at halftime, the Lady Titans saw the Lady Lions come all of the way back to get a fourth-quarter advantage and it took a pair of free throws by Nichols with 9 seconds left on the clock to clinch the victory.
Nichols and Kelcie Lanier are the two seniors that played their final regular season game for East Oktibbeha. There was to be a Senior Night ceremony, but the potential for winter weather postponed that and the boys game on Thursday.
Even though there will be a formal recognition on Feb. 14 for the seniors, Nichols and Lanier, who had 17 points for the Lady Titans, weren't going to go through the motions during their last regular season game on the home floor.
After Weir took a 14-13 lead at the end of the first quarter, Nichols and Lanier did most of the second quarter scoring to put East Oktibbeha on top 34-20 at halftime.
The Lady Lions outscored the Lady Titans 11-4 to close the gap to 38-31 at the end of the third quarter and get back into the ballgame.
As proud as he was to see his players do the things it took to establish a good first-half lead, Brooks was disappointed to see East Oktibbeha struggle in the second half.
"We did most of the things we had been preaching all year in the first half," Brooks said. "We played good defense, took good shots and for the most part in the first half, we took care of the basketball, but in the second half, turnovers is what got Weir back into this game. Things like turning the ball over – we can't do that if we expect to be a state (tournament) quality team."
Weir rallied and caused those turnovers by using a full-court press.
The Lady Titans continued to struggle getting the basketball up against the press in the fourth quarter, which led to the Lady Lions tying the game twice at 42-42 and 44-44 and getting three-point leads at 47-44 and 49-46 late in the game.
"We've got 17 different press breakers and that's what I mean about taking care of the basketball," Brooks said. "We know 17 different ways to break a press, then we get out there against a press that we run and all of a sudden we can't break it."
Nichols had two-straight buckets, one coming following a steal, that gave East Oktibbeha a 50-49 lead with 23 seconds remaining in the game.
After a pair of free throws put Weir back on top 51-50 with 17 ticks showing on the clock, Nichols hit two free throws to produce the winning margin with 9 seconds left.
Chansity Evans grabbed a rebound for the Lady Titans at the buzzer following a missed shot by the Lady Lions.