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Kayllis Walker leads Laurel past Canton 40-32 in MHSAA Class 5A Championship

The Golden Tornadoes hoisted a gold ball trophy for the second time in four years

Laurel is not traditionally a girls basketball powerhouse, but after Friday night, we may have to revisit that.

With star Kayllis Walker leading the way, the Lady Golden Tornadoes built a big first-half lead and cruised to a 40-32 win over Canton in the Class 5A Championship at the Mississippi Coliseum to clinch the program's second state title in four years.

They might not have had their best offensive game, but coach Sherri Cooley's bunch led comfortably from the second quarter to the final horn.

“It was an ugly game," Cooley said. "It was not a pretty win. Kayllis did what we’ve seen her do all year and that’s a be a beast in the post. This championship is big for the community. Laurel is traditionally known for football, and in the past in girls we’ve never been to get over the hump. Now the last two times, we’ve been able to do that.”

The Lady Golden Tornadoes (28-3) went on a 9-3 run to begin the first quarter to take a 9-5 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter was a rout, as Laurel scored the first 13 points to stretch their lead out to 22-9. By halftime, they had stretched it to 26-9 by the halftime break.

“We had to pick our defensive pressure up with zone press and that’s when we were able to get some turnovers and transition buckets,” Cooley said. “We knew we had to do that, because our shots weren’t falling. I told the girls to keep playing defense and keep the pressure on them, and we did that. I’m proud of the girls for sticking with it.”

The Lady Tornadoes picked up right where they left off to start the second half, and stretched their lead out to 33-11. Canton (27-4) put together a 10-0 run to finish the third quarter, trimming the lead to 33-21, but the Lady Tigers never could get within seven in the final quarter.

Laurel's Marissa Ulmer hit a pair of free throws with 1:24 left to give the Lady Tornadoes a 39-26 lead, and the celebration started on the Laurel bench.

Walker played one of her best games, considering she was going against Canton's star Shamira Morton in the post. The two traded buckets all night — Morton finished with 20 points, and Walker scored 19 to go with her 12 rebounds to earn MVP honors.

“It was a challenge tonight for me with (Morton)," Walker said. "So I rose to the challenge. We wanted to finish the game strong, and responded by not giving it up. We played our game, and it just feels great being state champs.”

Morton had 20 points to lead Canton, which had won all of its four previous playoff games by 12 or more points going into Friday.

“The players gave it all they had this game and all season and never gave up,” said Canton coach Melissa Word. “I’m proud of them for fighting, even when we didn’t play our best.”