It was a much-anticipated matchup throughout the 2017-18 basketball season.
West Jones (26-3) and Hattiesburg (25-6) finally got the chance to meet in the class 5A girls basketball state championship on Friday at the Mississippi Coliseum. The contest was what one could expect – a back-and-forth, physical game that ultimately came down to the last ten seconds.
West Jones possessed the ball with eight seconds left, leading 47-46. The Lady Tigers were on the verge of yet another close defeat in the state championship – but Kenedi Walker poked away the Lady Mustangs’ inbound pass and Chelsea Ulmer scooped up the loose ball, turned and laid it up for what proved to be the game-winning basket as the clock ticked under five seconds.
The buzzer sounded and the Hattiesburg bench cleared as the Lady Tigers defeated the West Jones 48-47 to capture the school’s first state championship in girls basketball.
"I was like, we gotta get this stop, we gotta get this stop,” said Hattiesburg sophomore Chelsea Ulmer. “And when I got the ball and made it, I was like we did it, we did it. That's all I could think."
"It's amazing,” said Hattiesburg senior Terralyn Ulmer. “I knew we were going to win this year. I just knew we had a chance because everybody works hard, they all listen and I just knew we were going to.”
It seemed like déjà vu.
Hattiesburg had been in this position twice before – a possession away from a state championship. In 2009, the Lady Tigers fell in the state title to Murrah 37-34. Three years later, Hattiesburg lost to Forest Hill in the finale 62-60.
It turned out the third time was the charm for head coach Caronica Debose-Jackson and company.
"We've been on the other side of that twice and it's really not fun,” Jackson said. “And to know that the girls had worked so hard – and like I said, just that fight and spirit to stay focused and to keep playing for each other, and to not quit on that last possession."
Hattiesburg finished the 2017-18 season at 26-6 and the class 5A state champions while the Lady Mustangs (26-4) still seek their first state title since the 1994-95 season.