ELLISVILLE, Miss. — Pearl River's women haven't been in the MACJC Tournament since the 2013-14 season, but the Lady Wildcats squad came out firing in their postseason opener Monday against top-seeded Itawamba. Although PRCC led for much of the first half, Itawamba showed why it was the No. 1 seed out of the North, battling back to top PRCC 81-63 at Jones College's A.B. Howard Gymnasium.
"We haven't been here before. This was our first time being here and our girls were excited," Pearl River coach Scotty Fletcher said. "The most disappointing thing is I thought we hit them early but I never felt defensively like we could get stops. Their ball movement was good and ran us out of our spots and made us rotate late."
NOT DONE YET, HOPEFULLY
Although Pearl River's stay in Ellisville was cut short, the Lady Wildcats could still have basketball in their near future. Depending on how the remainder of the tournament plays out, PRCC could be in Clinton when the Region XXIII Tournament commences Tuesday at Mississippi College.
The four winners on Day 1 of the MACJC Tournament earn automatic bids into the tournament. Louisiana's champion is awarded the fifth seed, with the final three at-large bids going to the remaining teams with the best Region XXIII winning percentages.
Entering Monday, Jones boasted the best Region XXIII record at 15-1, with ICC (13-1), LSU-Eunice (11-1), Co-Lin (16-5), and East Central (16-5) rounding out the Top 5. PRCC was sixth at 12-5, followed by Northeast (8-4), Gulf Coast (11-7), East Mississippi (8-8) and then the remainder of the schools all had sub-.500 records. If there are no upsets in the tournament, East Central will get the sixth seed, leaving two spots for PRCC to slide into.
"We're right there," Fletcher said. "Hopefully we still have basketball left to play. I've said from Day 1 this is a special team."
Maliyah Bullard (Pass Christian) opened the game's scoring with a pair of free throws 33 seconds into the contest. ICC (20-3) pulled ahead 10-7. PRCC (16-8) strung together a 6-0 run thanks to a 3-pointer from Gabby Brown (Fort Walton Beach; Choctaw), a Shania Wright (Clinton) layup and an Olivia Mosley (Pearl) free throw to pull ahead 13-10.
The Lady Wildcats weren't done there as Bullard knocked down a three and Meah Monroe (Reserve, La.; East St. John) banked a shot in to extend PRCC's lead to 18-12. The six-point advantage proved to be Pearl River's largest of the day.
Pearl River held a 22-17 advantage at halftime but ICC used a 12-3 run mid-way through the second frame to hold a 37-34 halftime lead.
The Lady Indians proceeded to score 10 of the second half's first 14 points to extend their lead. Even with mounting odds against them, PRCC didn't give up down the stretch, out-scoring ICC 15-11 in the fourth.
"We gave them our best punch but offensive rebounds and lack of ball movement killed us," Fletcher said. "There's nobody here by accident."
The Lady Wildcats have continually improved under Fletcher. After winning six games in his PRCC coaching debut, Fletcher's team jumped from 10 wins to 13 and now sit at 16 with more games possibly ahead.
Mychala Linzy (Clinton) led PRCC with 13 points thanks in large part to three 3-pointers. Brown was second on the team with 11 points and four assists. Alanna Smith (Picayune) dished out a team-high five assists. Elexis Peyton (Jackson; Provine) led PRCC with five rebounds.
ICC had four players in double figures, led by Zaria Jenkins' 20-point performance.