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No. 2 Devils edge No. 4 Cardinals, claim 1-3A title

Feb. 2—BELMONT — Booneville's girls didn't finish in the strongest fashion Friday night, but they finished all the same.

The Daily Journal's No. 2-ranked team held on late to edge No. 4 Belmont 59-56 on the final day of the regular season. The win gave the Blue Devils (19-1, 4-0) the No. 1 seed for the Region 1-3A Tournament, which starts Tuesday.

"They pushed us," Booneville guard Kaylee Johnson said. "They punched back at us, and we punched back at them. ... We love to win, and that's what we do."

The two-time defending 3A state champs did not make it easy on themselves in the fourth quarter. Booneville missed four free throws in the final 28 seconds while nursing a 57-56 lead.

With 1.6 seconds left, Belmont (18-5, 3-1) had an inbounds play drawn up for one last shot, but it was slow developing, and a five-second violation dashed the Cardinals' hopes.

"To come here and win and be tough enough to win here, that says a lot about our kids," Booneville coach Michael Smith said.

The contest was back-and-forth from the opening tip, with 13 lead changes in the first quarter alone. Booneville led 31-27 at halftime, and after Belmont briefly regained the lead, a 9-0 run put the Blue Devils up 38-32.

Belmont surged ahead 52-48 in the fourth quarter. Booneville then reeled off a 9-0 run capped by a Johnson 3-pointer for a 57-52 lead at the 2:42 mark.

It was one of three triples for Johnson in the second half after a slow start. She finished with 12 points.

"My coaches are really supportive, and my team is, too," Johnson said. "They just kept telling me to shoot the ball, keep believing, and I did what I know to do."

Saniyah Cook, the reigning 3A Miss Basketball, led Booneville with 15 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. The 6-foot-3 junior was 2 of 7 from the field, and Belmont's 6-1 post, Sadie Randolph, had a lot to do with that.

"She's playing the 3A player of the year, so I thought she did a good job of containing her," Belmont coach Chris Higginbottom said.

Point guard Carlie Brock led the Cardinals with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Her steal and layup gave Belmont a 49-48 lead with 5:46 left in the game.

Belmont shot 38% from the field, while Booneville made 45%. Kylee Johnson added 12 points for the Devils.

(B) Booneville 66, Belmont 39: Kedrick Simmons scored 27 points, and Alec Nunley added 15 for No. 1 Booneville (21-2, 4-0). Belmont (14-9, 2-2) was paced by Ty Ramsey's 11 points.

Three-Pointers

Turning Point: Booneville's 9-0 run in the fourth was sparked by Kylee Johnson, whose 3-point play gave her team a 54-52 lead with 3:45 to go.

Point Maker: Kaylee Johnson was 4 of 9 from 3-point range.

Talking Point: "You love watching them play, but you don't like playing them." — Michael Smith, on Belmont

brad.locke@journalinc.com