With its state championship aspirations on the line Tuesday, Harris County turned to its star when it needed her the most.
Trailing Carrollton 43-42 with 40 seconds left in the Class 5A quarterfinals, the Lady Tigers inbounded the basketball looking to respond. NaKevia Adams tossed the ball down low to senior Jessika Carter, who had three defenders in close vicinity.
Carter went up strong, drew the foul and made the shot. As she stepped to the line with a chance to put her team up two points, Carter said one message rang loudly in her head.
“I can’t lose,” Carter said. “This is my last game if we lose. I can’t lose.”
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Carter sank the shot to put her team up 45-43. Carrollton got several looks in the final 32 seconds, but a missed shot from just inside the 3-point line left Carter the hero in the 45-43 Harris County victory.
As a result, the Lady Tigers advance to the semifinals for the first time in program history.
“Our willingness to fight made the difference,” Harris County coach Steffanie Ramsey said. “They threw a punch at us, we threw one back. The last timeout they called, I just told them, ‘It’s going to come down to us just stepping up and taking that last punch.’ We did.”
The punch-for-punch nature of the physical game was apparent in the final two minutes when the teams traded the lead four times.
Carrollton grabbed its first fourth-quarter lead when De’marui Flournoy hit a layup with 1:53 remaining. Carter answered right back 30 seconds later, hitting a layup after a great feed from teammate Ny’Azjha Carter-Ransom.
Elexus Bell’s layup left Carrollton holding a 43-42 lead just seconds before Carter pulled off her and-1 to take the game.
Carter’s final three points left her with 23 in the victory, 15 of which came in the third quarter alone. Carter drew two quick fouls late in the first quarter which slowed her game down.
After halftime, the Mississippi State signee decided it was now or never.
“The second quarter, I was kind of nervous,” said Carter, who also scored her 2,000th career point in the win. “In the second half, I was like, ‘If we lose this, this is my last game. I can’t let that happen.’ I had to go out there and turn it up.”
“At the half, we told her nobody in this gym could play with her,” Ramsey said. “She’s a big-time, Division I signee. She had to come out and play. She did a great job.”
The Lady Tigers play in the Class 5A semifinals at 6 p.m. Saturday at Fort Valley State. The victory that sent the Lady Tigers there won’t soon be forgotten, but Ramsey has already made it clear this win can’t linger for too long.
“Today we’ll celebrate,” Ramsey said. “Tomorrow we’ll get back to work.”