TUPELO — Thursday night’s girls semifinal showdown between second seed Stonewall and third-seeded Tupelo at the Pontotoc Conference Tournament was supposed to be a track meet between two of the area’s quickest teams. Instead, the game turned into a defensive slugfest where neither team ever really got a chance to stretch its legs.

Tupelo hit just 15-of-41 field goal attempts and turned the ball over 23 times, but the Lady Tigers used a virtually airtight defense en route to a convincing 40-29 victory over a Stonewall club that had manhandled them (57-44) on Nov. 16 at Stonewall.

“Defense was the key tonight,” Tupelo coach Brian Davis said after seeing his club post its second straight impressive win this week (the Lady Tigers clobbered Wanette, 76-37, in their first-round game Monday) and advance to the school’s first-ever conference tournament girls championship game. “The girls stuck to the game plan real well, and I thought they played well in every aspect. Every time we needed a big play, our defense stepped up and stopped them.”

With the victory, Tupelo (6-2) moved on to face top seed Vanoss — which beat up on fifth seed Calvin, 74-42, in Thursday’s first semifinal behind 21 points from junior Stefani Burk — for the tournament title at 6 p.m. Saturday. Earlier Thursday, Allen beat Roff, 44-35, for the girls consolation title and Calvin opened leads of 12-0 and 27-11 in the first half and cruised to a 60-53 victory over Allen for the boys consolation crown.

Stonewall (4-3) will play Calvin (5-5) at 6 p.m. tonight for the girls third-place trophy to kick off an evening that will also include boys semifinal games between top seed (and defending tournament champ) Tupelo and fifth seed Vanoss at 7:30 p.m. and between No. 2 seed Roff and No. 3 Stonewall at 9 p.m.

The winners of tonight’s boys semifinals will meet in the championship game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, while the losers will play at 4:30 p.m. for third place to open the final day of the tournament.

Tupelo 40, Stonewall 29

Tupelo freshman Shanna Davidson drove the lane and banked in a short jumper to give Tupelo a 6-2 lead with 4:30 left in the first quarter, and Stonewall never got closer the rest of the way.

The Lady Longhorns, who hit 26-of-48 field goal attempts and never trailed in the first meeting between the two teams last month, didn’t get their first basket until Tyla Transue banked in a short jumper with 44 seconds left in the first quarter, and they finished the night just 10-for-34 from the field.

Stonewall (the two-time defending tournament champion) had eight turnovers and took just five shots in a first quarter that ended with Tupelo up 10-4 after freshman Chesna Henry drove the lane and hit a point-blank shot with 30 seconds left. The Lady Longhorns were just 3-for-13 from the field and 6-for-15 from the free throw line in the first two periods and trailed 20-12 at intermission.

Tupelo senior Katie Campbell, who scored a game-high 16 points (to equal her season low), picked up her second foul with 3:03 left in the first quarter and went to the bench — with Tupelo on top 8-2 — for almost six minutes, giving Davis a chance to show off his newfound depth. Henry and senior Ari Rice filled the void while Campbell was out, and when their star returned with 5:23 left in the half, the Lady Tigers were still in front 12-8.

“Our bench gave us some huge minutes tonight,” Davis said. “Ari and Chesna did a great job with Katie in foul trouble. The thing about this team is that we’re a lot quicker than we were last year, and we can match up with anybody.”

Stonewall senior guard Tesia Worcester had a sensational first half defensively, grabbing eight of her game-high nine steals and holding new Tupelo point guard Josie Soukup to four shots and no points before the break. Soukup, who scored eight points off the bench Monday in her first game for the Lady Tigers since moving from Coalgate last month, returned the favor, recording three of her five steals and limiting Worcester to two points on 1-of-5 shooting in the first two quarters.

Tupelo’s defense also did an outstanding job in the first half on Stonewall junior Shelby Lackey, who scored a career-high 25 points (on 11-of-16 shooting) in the first meeting between the two teams but had no shots and three fouls at halftime Thursday. Lackey, the Lady Longhorns’ leading scorer through seven games, erupted for nine of her team’s 11 third-quarter points (on 4-of-5 shooting) but took just two shots and didn’t score in the final period.

Sophomore Megan Bray hit back-to-back long-range jumpers off feeds from Campbell and Soukup in the space of 49 seconds to put Tupelo up 16-8 with 3:56 left in the half (after Stonewall had pulled to within four for the final time on a Neicole Thompson free throw at the 5:23 mark), and the Lady Tigers took their first double-digit lead of the game (20-10) on Campbell’s putback of her own miss 1:23 before the break.

Cherokee Brown drove the lane and hit a layup 14 seconds after Campbell’s bucket to cut the Tupelo lead to eight at intermission, then Lackey’s first bucket of the game — a hook shot in the lane off a Worcester assist with 6:40 left in the third quarter — trimmed the Tupelo lead to 22-16. Davidson answered with another short jumper in the lane, however, to extend the lead to eight, and Campbell countered Lackey’s off-balance 3-pointer from the left corner at the 3:15 mark with a trey of her own 10 seconds later to make it 31-22.

A steal by Soukup and her long-range jumper off a Bray assist at the other end gave Tupelo its first-11-point lead of the night at 33-22 less than a minute after Campbell’s 3-pointer. Although Stonewall closed to within six on a conventional 3-point play by Worcester with 7:39 to play, the Lady Longhorns couldn’t get closer.

Campbell, who entered the tournament averaging 25 points per game and scored 24 in Monday’s win over Wanette, was 5-for-12 from the field and hit her team’s only two 3-pointers Thursday. She also had six rebounds, an assist and one of the Lady Tigers’ 13 steals in the game.

No other Tupelo player scored more than six points, but all seven who saw action contributed.

Bray had four assists, two rebounds and a steal to go with her four points; Henry was 2-for-3 from the field for six points and added five rebounds and a steal off the bench; Soukup hit a pair of third-quarter field goals after starting 0-for-6 and had four points, two rebounds and an assist to go with her five steals; Shanna Davidson, the team’s second leading scorer through six games, scored a season-low four points but added nine rebounds (eight in the first half) and five steals; junior Lindsey Davidson had four points, two rebounds and a blocked shot; and Rice (the team’s second leading rebounder coming into the tournament) was 1-for-2 from the field for two points.

Lackey had four of Stonewall’s 10 field goals and tied Transue for the team lead in rebounds with four (Tupelo outrebounded the Lady Longhorns 31-22), and Brown had four steals to go with seven points. Worcester finished with five points to go with her nine steals, three rebounds and two assists, but she was just 2-for-9 from the field in the face of almost constant pressure from Soukup and the rest of the Tupelo defense.

Vanoss 74, Calvin 42

Burk, who has come back from a disappointing sophomore campaign to establish herself as one of the area’s top post players through the first month of the season, missed her first four field goal attempts. But her putback of an offensive rebound in the closing seconds of the first quarter gave Vanoss (5-4) a 16-7 lead heading to the second period, and she went on to drain nine of her final 11 shots and added eight rebounds, three steals and two assists before going to the bench for the final time midway through the fourth quarter.

Senior guard Jessica Welch missed her first five shots but was 6-for-10 the rest of the way and added 14 points, seven rebounds and two assists; senior guard Whitley Sutton scored the Lady Wolves’ first 10 points (including a pair of 3-pointers) and finished with 12 points, four rebounds, two steals and two assists; Logan Anderson hit a pair of late 3-pointers and finished with 10 points, three assists, five rebounds and two steals; and Katie Priest came off the bench to hit four of her seven shots and had 10 points, four rebounds and two assists.

Holley Caldwell had a solid outing for Calvin with 15 points (including two her team’s four 3-pointers), four rebounds, two steals, an assist and a blocked shot, and senior Sierra Barnhard was also in double figures with 10 points but hit just four of her 13 shots.

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