TUPELO — Josie Soukup’s first 32 seconds of the 2007-2008 season didn’t go quite as she has hoped. But over the remainder of her first night in a Tupelo uniform, she showed everybody what all the fuss had been about.

Soukup, who moved to Tupelo from Coalgate amid some controversy after the season began and only became eligible to play for the Lady Tigers Monday afternoon, came off the bench with 4:39 left in the first half of Tupelo’s first-round game with Wanette at the Pontotoc Conference Tournament and the third-seeded Lady Tigers leading just 8-5. She picked up a quick foul seven seconds later and threw the ball away the first time she touched it at the 4:07 mark.

For the rest of the game, though, Soukup was as good as advertised. A junior guard who stands just five feet tall, Soukup had four points, two steals, a rebound and an assist over the second half of the opening quarter while Tupelo built a 19-11 lead. She was also a catalyst for the Lady Tigers’ vicious press and fast-break offense over the next two periods in helping her new club to a convincing 76-37 victory.

With the win, Tupelo (5-2) moved on to a potential track meet with No. 2 seed Stonewall in Thursday night’s second semifinal. The Lady Longhorns will play No. 7 seed Roff in this afternoon’s tournament opener at 5 p.m. Wanette (2-5) will meet the Stonewall-Roff loser at 5 p.m. Wednesday in a loser’s bracket game.

In Monday’s other first-round girls contest, top seed Vanoss got 20 points from junior Stefani Burk and another big effort from senior guard Jessica Welch and cruised to a 58-39 victory over Asher. The Lady Wolves will face the winner of tonight’s (7:40 p.m.) 4-5 contest between Allen and Calvin, while Asher will play the loser at 7:40 p.m. Wednesday.

FIRST ROUND

Tupelo 76, Wanette 37

Soukup finished with eight points, two assists, two rebounds and five of Tupelo’s 27 steals while playing less than half the game, and she seemed to mesh right away with a young squad that entered the tournament playing its best basketball of the season. Monday night, though, the Lady Tigers took their play to another level.

Senior Katie Campbell, the area’s leading scorer through the first month of the season, scored an efficient 24 points (one below her season average through six games) on 9-of-13 shooting and added six steals, four assists and four rebounds; sophomore Megan Bray scored 12 of her 14 points in the first half to help the Lady Tigers to a 41-22 lead at the break and added four steals, three assists and two rebounds; Shanna Davidson continued to play like the area’s best freshman, scoring 14 points (10 in the second half), grabbing five steals and adding three rebounds and three assists; and another freshman, Chesna Henry, scored seven fourth-quarter points and added five steals, two rebounds and a blocked shot for Tupelo.

Wanette hit just 12-of-35 field goal attempts and turned the ball over 37 times against Tupelo’s relentless pressing defense, and the Lady Tigers scored one-fourth of their points at the end of fast-break opportunities created by a Wanette miss or a turnover.

Davidson drove the lane and banked in a short jumper off a Bray assist to give Tupelo the lead for good at 6-5 with 5:45 left in the opening quarter, and the Lady Tigers took their first double-digit lead of the night (19-9) on Soukup’s layup after she went coast-to-coast with a rebound at the 1:30 mark.

Tupelo held Wanette to just one field goal over the final 5:42 of the second quarter and took its biggest lead of the first half (40-16) on a steal by Campbell that started a fast break capped by a Bray layup with 1:55 left.

Bray was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound and sank two free throws with 8.5 seconds remaining in the third quarter to put Tupelo on top 57-30 heading to the fourth, and the lead grew to 34 (65-31) when Campbell got a steal, rebounded an Amber Roberson miss at the other end and dropped in a short jumper for the putback with 5:05 to play. The Tupelo subs finished up after Shanna Davidson again knifed through the lane and banked in a point-blank shot to make it 68-33 with 3:10 left.

Tana Middleton scored 12 points and Jessica Fullingim added 10 to lead Wanette, which played its third straight game without leading scorer Hallea Middleton.

Vanoss 58, Asher 39

Burk continued her breakout junior season, scoring 16 of her 20 points in the first half to help Vanoss (4-4) to a 36-14 lead at the break and adding 12 rebounds and two steals while playing less than half the game.

Welch, meanwhile, was in double figures for the seventh time in eight games and also had a double-double, scoring 11 points (all in the first half) and pulling down 10 rebounds despite also sitting for most of the contest. The senior guard also had three assists in the win.

Burk hit the first two baskets in a 6-0 Vanoss run to open the game, and she also had the Lady Wolves’ final two field goals as they rolled to a 20-6 lead after one quarter. Asher (0-8) closed to within 10 at 24-14 over the first half of the second quarter after the Vanoss reserves started the period, but the starters returned for the Lady Wolves at the 3:51 mark and dominated the rest of the half.

Burk had six of her team’s 16 second-quarter points, including a jumper off an inbounds pass from Logan Anderson to give Vanoss a 20-point lead (34-14) with 45 seconds left in the half, and Welch gave the Lady Wolves their biggest lead of the night (36-14) on a putback of an offensive rebound 23 seconds later.

The Vanoss reserves played virtually all of the second half, with Burk (who had two early baskets) and Loren Drake (who had a basket in the fourth period and finished with seven points) the only starters to score after the break.

Melissa Castro hit five of Asher’s seven 3-pointers in the game and finished with 16 points, and guard Patty Stevens had 11 points (all in the second half) and added eight rebounds and a game-high five steals in the loss.

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