POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Pearl River women's coach Scotty Fletcher has said for weeks that Hinds was the most improved team in the league.
The Bulldogs reflected Fletcher's sentiment Thursday's the Wildcats had to overcome a rough start to knock off HCC 51-44 inside Marvin R. White Coliseum.
"I knew it wasn't going to be easy. I think our girls knew (Hinds) was searching right now and a little hungrier than we were. The best thing about to night is we were able to get stops in the fourth quarter. That was our best defensive quarter," Fletcher said. "If you would have told me we'd win this game with nobody in double digits, shooting a season low 4 of 19 from 3, I would have told you there's no way."
The Wildcats (8-4 overall, 2-2 MACJC South) trailed for much of the first half, only tying the game 17-17 with 5:08 to play in the second quarter when Jakia Harper (Jackson; Provine) pickpocketed a HCC guard and went the length of the court for an uncontested layup.
Harper gave PRCC its first lead 30 seconds later when she knocked down both of her free throws but the advantage was short lived. HCC took a brief lead of its own but a baseline jumper from Alannah Turner (Gulfport; West Harrison) and a slash to the basket by Mychala "Pooh" Linzy (Clinton) pushed PRCC ahead going into halftime, 24-23.
The Bulldogs scored first in the third, but a jumper from Tae Burrage (Carthage; Leake County) and a 3-pointer from Linzy gave the Wildcats a 29-27 advantage.
What Fletcher especially liked was when his team finally claimed they lead, they never relinquished it.
Burrage and Linzy's baskets helped open a 9-2 run for the Wildcats for a 33-27 lead.
Brieanna Miller (Moss Point) made three free throws and Shania Wright (Clinton) added a layup as PRCC opened the fourth on a 5-0 run for a 45-36 advantage and ultimately clinched the Wildcats' second MACJC victory.
"Last year I know we won 16 games and tied for second in the South Division, but the reality is knowing how tough it was each and every night to get the win. It's going to be the same way every night," Fletcher said. "The nights of blowing teams out and beating them by 20 and 30, those days are over. There's so much parity in the league."
Fletcher had a pretty direct message for his Wildcats following the win. Never one to lack energy courtside, Fletcher expects the same from his players, regardless of the score.
"We cannot allow shot making and shot missing to determine how hard we play. Do I think we played hard? Yes. But you know like I do, when you get a base hit you run to first base a little faster. When you make a shot, you play a little bit harder. We have to get more mature as a ball club," he said. "We have to continue to get better on the small things. We will. We're just not there right now. And here's the thing — we don't want to peak right now. We have to use these next few ballgames to get going."
Linzy led PRCC's scoring efforts with nine points. Harper and Maliyah Bullard (Pass Christian) each scored seven.
Olivia Mosley (Pearl), Linzy and Harper each had four rebounds to lead the Wildcats.
"Tonight was literally a team win," Fletcher said. "I thought we had to have everybody."
PRCC will play its last non-conference game Saturday when the Wildcats visit Coastal Alabama-North for a 2 p.m. opening tip. Pearl River returns to the MACJC on Tuesday for a rivalry matchup against Gulf Coast. The doubleheader begins at 5:30 p.m. Admission is free for all high school juniors and seniors.
HOW TO TUNE IN
All home events are broadcast on PRCCAthletics.com and PRCCMedia.com. Anyone who has an Amazon Fire or Roku device can stream PRCC broadcasts by downloading the "Pearl River CC" Channel from the app store.