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Lady Cougars open with a nailbiter

By By James Crawford
News Editor
In a back and forth contest that came down to the buzzer, the Escambia Academy Lady Cougars held on to defeat a determined Wilcox Academy Lady Wildcats 34-31 in Friday's opening round of the Escambia Academy New Year's Classic Basketball Tournament, held at the academy in Atmore.
The 4-3 Lady Wildcats took the lead in the contest, posting several unanswered baskets and a steal before the Lady Cougars took the ball back, sparked by a free throw by Jessica Gibbs, and closed the gap in the score books. Lady Cougar Meagan Jackson hit back to back three pointers from deep to even the score and take the lead after a Wilcox foul gave the Lady Cougars the ball.
The Lady Wildcat Jill Bledsoe dropped in three at the start of the second quarter to take the lead back for Wilcox followed by another two points from Jessica Collins and again two from Bledsoe to firm up the Lady Wildcat lead.
Escambia regrouped after several missed opportunities and mounted a comeback after Lori Bonds dropped one in at the line followed by three from the top of the court by Meagan Jackson several plays later.
After a failed last minute attempt by the Lady Cougars, the score remained tied 16-16 at the half. Both teams suffered from lane violation calls and turnovers plagued both ends of the court.
Escambia started the fourth quarter with lay up attempt but was called for traveling. After a miss at the free throw line, the Lady Cougars regained the rebound and made the basket, taking a one-point lead with just over three minutes remaining. The Lady Wildcats answered the score with one of their own and the game was tied until the final minutes.
The Lady Wildcats gained the ball after a struggle with 32.8 seconds left to play in the fourth. Lady Wildcat Ann Jones is good for one at the line to take a one-point lead for Wilcox.
Lady Cougar Jessica Gibbs answered the call by dropping two in to take the lead back for Escambia by one with just 17 seconds left. After a Wilcox foul, Lady Cougar Meagan Jackson goes two for two at the line to give the Lady Cougars the win and improve their record to 9-2.
"I thought we had several chances to blow it open early. At the end, we had the same opportunities and couldn't capitalize but we'll take it," Lady Cougar Head Coach Chad Prewett said. "The draw play at the end was crucial. We missed the shot but Lori Bonds put it back in with just a new minutes left to play and we needed that basket."
Despite the loss, Lady Wildcat Head Coach Buddy Sumner wasn't devastated. "I was real pleased actually. We've bee off for three weeks and I wasn't sure how we would respond. Escambia Academy has a real good team," Sumner said. "We missed too many easy shots inside that we have to make."
Meagan Jackson finished the night for the Lady Cougars with 16 points, 12 of which constituted all but four of the first half points earned by the team. Lori Bonds added eight points and Jessica Gibbs contributed with 14 rebounds, followed by kaylie Castleberry's seven grabs.