Lady Pirates nipped by Atomics


MANDIE RUSHING (11) and Haley Rodgers(12) put the defensive pressure on a driving Railey Tate for Poplar Springs. The Lady Pirates fell to 9-4 overall and 6-1 in district competition following their loss to the Atomics. (Photo by Blake McCormick)

State of Florida, you have been served notice. If the Lady Atomics of Poplar Spring’s 20 wins and playoff berth last season didn’t convince you, or their previous 10-1 record going into this past week’s game with Ponce De Leon didn’t validate the legitimacy of the program, try this…
Poplar Springs ran a patient offense, made selective shots, including six three pointers, and nipped Ponce de Leon 39-36 in a district contest played on Dec. 20 in PDL.
The Lady Atomics now boast road victories against two of the area’s most proud Class A programs, Ponce de Leon and Paxton, a rare achievement for local schools.
The game never saw a margin greater than five points. In the first quarter, Ally Dady had a field goal and a three pointer to open up scoring for the Pirates. The visiting Atomics countered with a pair of three pointers from Brittney Jones and Emily Gilmore along with a two pointer by LeAnna Bell. Ponce would score the last two baskets of the quarter with a three pointer by Mandie Rushing that tied the game at 8-all with 1:53 left, and a field goal by Haley Rodgers that gave the home team a 10-8 lead after the first quarter.
Taylor West kept the Lady Pirates scoring streak going with a three pointer to start the second quarter. Poplar would retake the lead with a field goal by Watson. With 2:12 left in the half, Jones gave Poplar a 16-15 lead after connecting on a three pointer, then a free throw, after drawing a foul on a quick turnover. The teams would close out the final two minutes of the first half with a quicker pace, highlighted by a defensive steal by the Pirates’ Lori Arrant which aided in a 23-20 lead for the host squad at the half.
Poplar Springs scored the first seven points of the third quarter with Watson and Bell hitting field goals while Robin Tate canned a shot from behind the three-point line. Calmly, the red and white clad Lady Pirates responded with Dady and Rushing connecting on three pointers and West connecting on a field goal. The game went into the final quarter with a 30-27 lead for the home team.
Both teams remained patient with their offenses to start the fourth period. Poplar’s Watson drained a three pointer to tie the game at 30-all with seven minutes left in the game. After a field goal by Bell gave the Lady Atomics a 32-30 lead, West responded for Ponce on the next possession with a lay-up via nifty footwork that drew an impressed response from the home crowd. A three pointer by Railey Tate flipped the lead back to the visiting team for a 35-32 advantage before PDL would then give their opponents an early Christmas present with an ill-timed turnover at the 1:44 mark. The Lady Pirates got the ball back after a missed shot by Poplar with under a minute left and West connected on another lay-up to pull coach Tim Alford’s club within a point. But, in the final 30 seconds, Watson and Robin Tate each had clutch field goals for Poplar Springs, increasing the lead to 39-34. After pulling within 39-36 with three seconds left, PDL tried to force a turnover on an entry pass from the far end of the court only to see Poplar’s Jones make a heads up play, throwing the ball down to their side of the court, allowing the final three seconds to expire while sending the Lady Atomics back to the  northeast corner of Holmes County with a great district victory.
Poplar Springs will host Paxton on Jan. 10 and Ponce de Leon on Jan. 20, likely needing just a win over the Lady Pirates to earn the top seed in the District 1, Class A tournament that will be held in Bethlehem in five weeks.