Reaching for glory

JACKSON — The Devilettes were nervous before the game started Monday, but when tipoff came it never showed.

The Simmons girls basketball team defeated Hamilton 43-33 in the semifinals of the MHSAA Girls 1A State Semifinals at the Jackson Coliseum.The Devilettes will play Pine Grove for the state championship Gold Ball Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Coliseum.

“Before the game started, some of the players came up to me and said they were so nervous, they were shaking,” Simmons girls basketball coach Bernita Alexander said. “They were not used to playing in an arena as big as the Coliseum.”

But, when the ball was tipped, the Devilettes collected themselves and immediately showed their poise.

No player was more calm under pressure than senior leader Jalelia Gadison. Gadison’s great play was a big reason why Simmons had made it this far in the first place, and on Monday she played one of her best games ever. Gadison led the Devilettes with 17 points and also grabbed a team-high six rebounds. But, it was the little things Gadison did, that may have been even more important to her team’s victory.

“She has been leading us all year, and today was no different,” Alexander said. “It was not just on offense, but also her defense that helped control the game for us.”

Along with Gadison’s fine play, Simmons (26-7) ability to control the pace of the game played a big role in the win as well. Players like Taylor Lucas-Howard, who scored 11 points in the game, and Tiara Willis helped the Devilettes decide how the game against Hamilton would be played.

“We controlled the flow of the game and were able to get what we wanted,” Alexander said. “They did an awesome job of making the right decisions at the right times.”

Willis scored seven points, while sophomore Na’Riah Robinson scored six points and also grabbed five rebounds.

While the Simmons players and coaches are proud of all they have accomplished this season, and especially proud about what they achieved Monday, they also realize how meaningful Thursday’s game will be.

Before the season started, the Devilettes dedicated the season to legendary Simmons Coach George Willis, the father of star player, Tiara Willis, who died last July.

Coach Alexander played for Coach Willis from 1984 until 1987. She was also an assistant coach under Coach Willis when the Lady Blue Devils won back-to-back Class 2A state championships in the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons. The Lady Blue Devils finished both of those seasons at 36-0, and during those 72 wins Simmons never trailed in a single game.

Back in November, Tiara Willis said “My teammates and I are going to push through all the adversity and come out on top.”

Just one more win and they will have reached the summit.