Benton senior Jada Anderson has made some big shots during the last four seasons, but probably none bigger than the one she made late in the Lady Tigers’ Class 5A quarterfinal game Thursday night at Parkway.
As she has done many times, the 5-foot-3 Anderson drove through the lane past taller defenders. She then hit a layup that gave Benton a 47-46 lead.
Parkway had a couple of shots to regain the lead but couldn’t get them to fall. Anderson was fouled with 3.7 seconds left and swished both free throws for a 49-46 lead.
Sh’Diamond McKnight’s desperation shot from halfcourt at the buzzer was off the mark, prompting a massive celebration from the Lady Tigers and their fans in the stands.
Defending state champion Benton (16-6), the No. 12 seed, will play No. 1 Ponchatoula (32-0) in the 5A semifinals Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Girls’ Marsh Madness State Tournament at the SLU University Center in Hammond. Ponchatoula defeated No. 8 Hahnville 65-37 in its quarterfinal game.
The winner will face the winner between No. 6 Captain Shreve (19-5) and No. 10 West Monroe (17-5) for the state championship at 7:30 Saturday.
Benton is making its fourth straight trip to the state tournament.
“It’s exciting,” Benton head coach Mary Ward. “Any time you get to go to the state tournament it’s exciting. It kind of goes back to each team is special in its own way. You want it for each team and for them to get to experience it this year, it’s going to be fun.”
Benton lost to Ponchatoula 66-49 in the Denham Springs tournament Dec. 5. The 17-point margin is almost exactly what the Lady Tigers lost by in their regular-season District 1-5A game against Parkway on Jan. 5.
For Parkway, it was a gut-wrenching loss. The Lady Panthers were looking for their first trip to the state tournament since 2008.
The loss will sting for awhile, but Parkway had an outstanding season. With McKnight, a senior, sophomore Mikaylah Williams and freshman Chloe Larry leading the way, the Lady Panthers finished 19-4. Their losses were to Benton, Shreve, and Class 4A semifinalists Huntington and LaGrange.
The Lady Panthers will miss McKnight, but with Williams and Larry returning, Parkway should be among the state’s top teams next season and beyond.
Williams, who led the Lady Panthers with 16 points, gave Parkway a 46-45 lead in the final minute with a driving layup.
Ward said it was no secret whose hands she wanted the ball in during clutch time.
“At the very end when I just wanted a last-second shot you’re going to put it in this person’s hands that’s your playmaker,” she said. “I’m fortunate enough to have the Player of the Year from last year on my team.”
Anderson, who scored 17 of her game-high 21 points in the second half, was named the Outstanding Player in the state championship game against Ouachita Parish.
Ward said her go-ahead layup was the result of hours of work during the offseason.
“Ever since that last state tournament she didn’t just get all excited and not doing anything,” Ward said. “During COVID she was practicing hours upon hours improving her game. And that shot, that’s not just her going and making a layup. She’s done it over and over and over again in her backyard practicing. That’s why she’s special.”
Another reason Ward believes the Lady Tigers were able to come out on top was big-game experience. Every starter played a role in last year’s run to the title.
“They believed they could win,” she said. “We talked about it a lot in practice today. We knew it was going to be back-and-forth. If we keep it close in the end we’re going to win.
We just kept telling each other we will win. It’s that positive attitude and I do think it’s that experience of being there before and knowing what’s at stake and everybody doing their part.”
Unlike the first meeting between the two, when Parkway jumped out to a big early lead, Thursday’s game was an edge-of-your-seat nailbiter from the get-go.
Benton led 13-12 after a quarter, 21-20 at the half and 36-35 after three quarters.
While Anderson was the only Lady Tiger with double-digit points, forward Jada Stewart also played a big role. She had numerous rebounds and blocks along with eight points.
“She probably had about 10 blocks,” Ward said. “She was phenomenal tonight. She was close to a triple-double because she had over 10 rebounds.”
Marissa Schoth also scored eight points. Riley Grace Stanford hit two 3-pointers for six points. Ella Kate Malley had four points.
McKnight and Larry finished with 11 and 10 points for Parkway. Bianca Oliver added six and Ty’lissa Henderson three.