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By Gene Phelps

Daily Journal

TUPELO – There’s no reason to believe today’s MHSAA Class 6A state semifinals tennis match between Tupelo and Madison Central will be anything but close.

The teams have played twice this season and have split – both winning by scores of 4-3.

The third match, played today in Madison, will determined the North’s representative in next week’s state championship match at the Bridges Tennis Center in Jackson.

“It’s always going to be a tight match,” Tupelo coach Laurie Bishop said. “It’s never a runaway for either team.”



Tupelo (12-3) reached the semifinals with its 6-1 victory Tuesday against visiting Clinton at Rob Leake City Park courts.

In singles, Tupelo’s Sebastian Rios beat Brandon Zetterholm 6-0, 6-0 and Jessie Nabors stopped Megan Holmes 6-3, 6-4. Both Tupelo players eighth graders

In boys doubles, the No. 1 team of sophomore Andrew Hildenbrand and seventh grader Eric Huey beat Paul Pratt and Brandon Doyle 6-0, 6-0.

“We play well together,” Hildenbrand said. “We’re active at the net and our serves are big. Most of all, we don’t give up.”

New look

However, there’s a chance Hildenbrand and Huey, undefeated in five matches this season, will not be paired for today’s match against Madison Central. The reason … strategy.

“The team’s pretty much even,” Huey said. It’s all about the lineup.”

“(Coach Bishop) might switch it up a little,” Hildenbrand said, referring to the pairings for today.

Bishop said her focus will be to put her players in the best position to win.

“We’ve got to go out there and win the ones that count,” she said.

In Tuesday’s other matches, Mitch Ostrander and Robert Thompson won 6-4, 6-3 in No. 2 doubles. In girls doubles, Briley Chrisman and Sarah Watkins were 6-2, 6-4 winners while Emily Carter and Megan Ware took a 6-4, 6-3 victory.

In mixed doubles, Sarah Lambert Hollingsworth and Hogan Harrington lost 3-6, 6-1, 0-1 (9-11).

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By Gene Phelps

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Ty Wheeler struck out in his first two at-bats Tuesday.

The Tupelo first baseman’s final trip to the plate ended a whole lot better – a game tying, two-out single in the seventh inning of a 7-6 comeback win by the Golden Wave against visiting Southaven.

“I was trying to get a hit; we needed it with two outs,” said Wheeler, who slapped a curveball off reliever Kyle Connelly into left field. “Our backs were against the wall. We needed something to happen.”

Tupelo, which improved to 19-8, travels to Louisville for a 4 p.m. game Friday, its last of the regular season. The Wave will host Madison Central or Horn Lake next Thursday in the first game of a best-of-three playoff series.

Tupelo, which trailed 6-4 entering the seventh, scored its winning run when Walter Goss’s grounder to shortstop was bobbled, allowing William Ikerd to cross the plate.

Hudson Roy opened the inning with a bunt single and scored on Michael Ray’s single to right center field. Ray stole second and scored on Wheeler’s hit.

“That was a great comeback win,” Tupelo coach Gary Enis said. “I’m proud of the way the guys battled in the seventh and tied it up … then scratched for a win.

“Hopefully the momentum will carry over to the next game. At this point of the season you’re looking for that mental edge.”

Wheeler agreed with his coach’s assessment of the comeback victory.

“It’s a win … we’ve got to keep winning and get some momentum for the playoffs,” he said.

Roy started and worked 41⁄3 innings, striking out seven, walking two and scattering five hits. Drew Hurst got the mound win in relief.

Roy also led the Golden Wave with three singles. Ray had two hits while Matthew Miley had a double.

Nic Short led Southaven with four singles and two RBI.

baseball_icon_greenBy Gene Phelps

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Chalk it up as a learning experience.

That’s the take Tupelo baseball coach Gary Enis had after his team’s 7-0 loss Saturday to prospect-loaded DeSoto Central.

“They are very talented,” Enis said of the Jaguars, who have six Division I commitments in their lineup. “It was a learning experience for our team. Maybe it will help us in the playoffs.”

Tupelo (18-8), which suffered three losses during the week, won the game it needed on Wednesday, when it defeated Hernando on the road to clinch the Division 2-6A regular-season title.

The Golden Wave’s postseason starts May 1 when it hosts the winner of next week’s best-of-three series between Madison Central and Horn Lake. Madison Central beat Tupelo 8-7 Friday night.

Tupelo hosts Southaven at 4 p.m. Tuesday in a regular-season game and hopes to play one more game Friday or Saturday.

Enis plans to use the games to give his Tuesday-Friday starting pitchers – seniors Carter Clayton and Hudson Roy – some innings.

“We want them to get their weekly work in with a set pitch count,” Enis said.

The coach said he also likes the pitching depth they’ve established. “We have some options,” he said.

Saturday’s starter, sophomore left-hander Jason Garrett, gave up seven hits, struck out four and walked three in four innings. Junior right-hander Will Buse worked three innings in relief and recorded four strikeouts against the Jags.

Clay Casey belted a two-run homer off Garrett in a three-run fourth inning for DeSoto Central. The Jags scored four in the second.

Clayton, who was the winning pitcher in Wednesday’s game against Hernando, says his arm feels great. He also likes what he’s seen from the team’s other hurlers.

“Jason’s pitched well. Hudson’s arm is back in shape. Buse showed a good arm. That’s exciting,” he said.

Tupelo was two-hit by DeSoto Central, but produced a combined 18 hits against Hernando and Madison Central.

“We’ve got to produce, 1 through 9 in our lineup,” Enis said. “I feel good about our lineup.”

Thomas Wells | Buy at Pontotoc's Kayla Russell was the defensive stopper for a team that won 115 games in four seasons, including a 34-0 state title season in 2012.

Thomas Wells | Buy at
Pontotoc’s Kayla Russell was the defensive stopper for a team that won 115 games in four seasons, including a 34-0 state title season in 2012.

By Gene Phelps

Daily Journal

Kayla Russell, the Daily Journal’s 2014 Player of the Year, was sold on playing defense from an early age. She didn’t have much choice.

She was the coach’s kid.

Thomas Wells | Buy at Pontotoc coach Bill Russell with his daughter Kayla.

Thomas Wells | Buy at
Pontotoc coach Bill Russell with his daughter Kayla.

“She knows, being my daughter, how important defense is to me,” Pontotoc coach Bill Russell said. “I think our defense the past few years has given us an edge.”

And Kayla’s defensive role has played a huge part in the Lady Warriors success the last four seasons – 115 wins, a 34-0 season and a state championship in 2012.

“He always said defense wins championships,” Kayla said, referring to her father. “I like playing defense.”

Russell always gave his daughter the toughest assignment. “She was always assigned the other team’s best player,” Bill Russell said.

Kayla responded to his challenge.

She held former Coldwater star Jerontay Clemons, now at Southern Miss, scoreless for a half.

She has held Bay High’s Christa Reed, a Vanderbilt signee, to below her yearly average twice.

Byhalia’s Shandricka Sessoms, an Ole Miss signee, was held scoreless.

“My goal is to not let the player I’m guarding score. If they do score, I don’t want them to score again,” Kayla said.

While Russell’s overall offensive game took a backseat to her defense – she averaged 14 points per game – she never lost her perimeter shooting touch. She sank 94 3-pointers this season – 352 in her career – and sank eight 3-pointers against 2A state champ H.W. Byers.

Big shot

Her biggest 3-pointer came her sophomore season in the Lady Warriors’ 4A state championship win against Forrest County AHS. She banked in a 3-pointer from the baseline in the closing seconds to seal a 72-68 decision.

“He had told us not to shoot a 3,” she said. “I shot it anyway. At first I thought it was going behind the goal. I started yelling, ‘Off, off!’’’

Russell’s final organized basketball game was likely her team’s loss to Gentry at North state. She has turned down college offers and plans to become just a student.

“I’ll miss it; there’s nothing like high school basketball,” she said. “Nothing can replace the love I have for the sport and this team.”

Russell’s teammate, junior Marlee Hatcher, and Itawamba AHS senior Kim Mallory were also considered for the award.

Lauren Wood | Buy at Devin Hill led the Itawamba AHS girls to the state Class 4A state championship game in his first season.

Lauren Wood | Buy at
Devin Hill led the Itawamba AHS girls to the state Class 4A state championship game in his first season.

By Gene Phelps

Daily Journal

Devin Hill of Itawamba AHS’, the Daily Journal’s 2014 Coach of the Year in girls basketball, can bury his Underdog cape.

When your team – considered the third-best in its division – wins the state basketball championship, you lose that motivational ploy.

“Being the underdog all year, that’s what helped prepare us for Bay,” said Hill, whose team defeated favored Bay High 42-41 in the Class 4A state championship game at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. “We relished the role.

“We took the mindset that we’ve been proving people wrong all year.”

Booneville’s Michael Smith, Belmont’s Chris Higginbottom and New Site’s Byron Sparks were also considered for the award.

The Lady Indians split in the regular season against division foe Shannon, then beat the Lady Raiders in the 1-4A tournament and North state.

Division winner Pontotoc beat IAHS three times, including a 64-39 spanking in the division tournament championship game.

“With the exception of the division tournament game against Pontotoc, those games were all dogfights,” Hill said. “We knew if we fixed some things we’d be a good team.”

Hill turned down the opportunity to coach the Lady Indians four times before finally accepting the position. His reluctance was because he was coaching the boys team.

“I leaned back and forth when (former coach Amanda Morrow) resigned,” he said. “I had coached girls for a brief time at Hamilton when our coach was out.

“I finally thought, ‘Let’s do it for a year and see how it goes.’”

Hill inherited a talented team that featured all-star post player Kim Mallory, her younger sister, Tori, a power forward; Jamyia Hill, a small forward and guards Aniyah Marshall and Constance Dunn.

“I knew we had a good team,” Hill said. “We had people to put in each spot who play and score.”

The biggest adjustment he had coaching the girls was getting them to accept his aggressive, defensive-minded style of play.

“It was rough and ready at the beginning,” he said. “We wanted to hang our hat on defense, being aggressive. The girls bought into it.”

It was that aggressive style that helped the gold ball land in the underdog’s house.



By Gene Phelps

Daily Journal

The wait was a long one, but well worth it for Saltillo’s archery team.

The Tigers recorded an impressive 3,360 score Tuesday on the first day of the Archery in Mississippi Schools (AIMS) State Shoot in Jackson, but had to wait until the completion of Wednesday’s round to know their fate.

Saltillo’s lofty score won the program its third straight Class 5A and overall state championships in the third year of the state competition.

“You sit and wait,” said first-year head coach Eric Reynolds, who was as assistant for two seasons. “You count down the hours.”

Reynolds liked the idea of shooting on the first day, then coming home to wait.

“When you shoot on Tuesday no scores are posted,” he said. “It takes the pressure off your shooters. It helped not having to worry about shooting a certain score to win.

“I told my team, we’re here to set the score, not reach it.”

Landon Jones posted a 293 score to lead boys while Tori Thornberry was the top girls shooter with a 279.

“I’m proud of this group of shooters,” Reynolds said. “They are undefeated in three years. They’ve gone beyond what anybody expected them to do.”

Mustangs run

Coach John Tigner’s Mantachie Mustangs, the Class 2A state champions, had a long wait, too. They posted a 3,306 score Tuesday before heading back to Itawamba County.

“The anticipation is tough,” he said. “We had a great score and we shot great. That was the best score we’ve had all season.”

Hatley, East Union and New Site finished second through fourth in the 11-team field.

Lane Scribner and Greg Cooper posted the top boys scores with 286s. Summer Dill was the girls top shooter with a 277.

“This is a great group of kids, who’ve worked hard for this,” Tigner said.

Eagles soar

Tremont now knows that every shot counts.

The Eagles captured their first Class 1A state championship with a 5-point win against Northeast Mississippi foe Smithville – 3,162 to 3,157. Pine Grove was third with a 3,130.

“We shot first Wednesday and left the arena to go eat,” Tremont coach Sandy Webb said. “Then we came back to watch (Smithville).”

When the scores were posted, Tremont remained on top, but Webb didn’t let her team celebrate until it was officially announced.

“Then we cheered,” she said. “I’m proud of my kids. They’ve out in so many hours to get better.”

Trenton Timms led the Eagles boys with a 294 score while Tammy Sanderson was fourth on the team and the top girl with a 267.

Amory’s Andrew Kizzire posted the shoot’s top boys score with a 295. Nettleton’s Candice Barnes had a 289 to lead the girls.

golden_wave_tupelo_boys_varsity_baseball_spring_12-13By Gene Phelps

Daily Journal

HERNANDO – Tupelo coach Gary Enis hoped a focused and determined Golden Wave baseball team would show up Wednesday to play Hernando with a division championship on the line.

His team, which suffered a shutout loss to the Tigers in Tupelo on Tuesday, didn’t let him down.

Tupelo, powered by Hudson Roy’s solo home run in the seventh inning and a clutch relief pitching performance from sophomore left-hander Jason Garrett, defeated Hernando 4-2 to capture the Division 2-6A regular-season title.

“I’m proud of a bunch of guys who came together tonight, especially after the disapppointing (5-0) loss (Tuesday),” Enis said. “They refused to lose.”

First-round bye

Tupelo (18-6, 6-3 2-6A) earned a first-round playoffs bye with the win. Hernando (15-9, 6-3) will play a play-in series next week.

Hernando trailed 3-0 entering the sixth inning, but rallied against Golden Wave starter Carter Clayton (6-1). The Tigers chased him with a single and two doubles, the last one a two-run shot to center by Will Craft.

Garrett entered and got three consecutive outs, two on ground outs and one on a rundown.

In the seventh, he sent the Tigers down in order – two on strikeouts – for the save.

“I wanted to come in and throw strikes,” he said. “I knew I had to step up. I knew we needed it.”

Roy, a senior first baseman/pitcher, led off the top of the seven with his first high school homer, a shot over the right field wall.

Clayton, Ty Wheeler and Luke Weeden all had RBI singles for Tupelo.

prep_icon_greenSaltillo (5A), Mantachie (2A) and Tremont (1A) captured state championships Wednesday in the Archery in Mississippi Schools (AIMS) State Shoot in Jackson.

Tupelo was third in 6A, Amory second in 4A and South Pontotoc and North Pontotoc second and third in 3A. Hatley, East Union and New Site finished behind Mantachie in 2A while Smithville and Pine Grove took second and third in 1A.

Amory’s Andrew Kizzire had the boys high overall score with a 295. Nettleton’s Candice Barnes had the girls high overall with a 289.

See Friday’s high school page for more coverage.

Gene Phelps

golden_wave_tupelo_boys_varsity_baseball_spring_12-13By Gene Phelps

Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Division 2-6A baseball championship will be decided tonight … in Hernando.

That’s not exactly the scenario Tupelo coach Gary Enis was hoping for. His Golden Wave could have clinched the title at home Tuesday, but instead lost 5-0 to the visiting Hernando Tigers.

“This puts the pressure on; it comes down to one game,” Enis said. “They’re playing at home and we’re on the road.

“We’ve got to come in more focused and determined to win.”

Tupelo (17-6 overall, 5-3 division) and Hernando (15-8, 6-2) play at 6 p.m. The series between the two teams is tied at 1-1. Today’s game was postponed Monday because of rain.

“This will be the deciding third game,” said an excited Hernando coach Dave Lara, whose program moved up from 5A this year. “This is what both teams have been playing for all year. It’s going to be a good game.”

Hernando took a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning and sealed the victory with four runs, three on a two-out double to center field by No. 9 batter Caleb Wilcke.

“He’s been pretty successful with runners on base,” Lara said of Wilcke, the Tigers’ right fielder. “He battles and battles.”

Wilcke’s double was one of six hits off Tupelo left-hander Hudson Roy (4-1), who suffered his first loss. Roy recorded seven strikeouts in seven innings.

Hernando starter, right-hander Ian Painter (4-0), fired a three-hitter and recorded six strikeouts. He escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fifth with a strikeout of Michael Ray.

“Ian has pitched well all year,” Lara said. “He gives us a chance. He throws strikes and we play good defense behind him.”

The Golden Wave had two runners on in the second with two out, but Painter escaped with a strikeout.

“We couldn’t get the big two-out hit and they got one early,” Enis said, referring to Painter’s two-out RBI single in the second to give Hernando its 1-0 lead.

Tupelo's versatile Michael Ray emphasized his three varsity sports in his senior portrait. (Marty Pettit)

Tupelo’s versatile Michael Ray emphasized his three varsity sports in his senior portrait. (Marty Pettit)

By Gene Phelps

Daily Journal

Michael Ray didn’t get a lot of sleep in the early morning hours of Nov. 2, the day of the MHSAA State Swim Championships.

He started at safety for Tupelo High’s football team the night before in a division game against DeSoto Central in Southaven. The next day, at Delta State University’s Aquatics Center, he was scheduled to swim in three events for the Golden Wave.

“I got about five hours of sleep,” said Ray, a senior. “I had to get up early, shave my legs and that stuff to get ready to swim (in the preliminaries).”

Ray, his body still aching from a night of football, went out and helped Tupelo’s boys capture their seventh straight state championship in the pool.

“In that atmosphere, your adrenaline going, coach calling your name … you really don’t feel anything,” he said.

Ray’s contribution was a victory in the 50-yard freestyle and swimming a leg on the winning 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle relay teams.

Ray’s third leg, the butterfly stroke, in the medley relay gave the Golden Wave its win.

“We were behind and he puts us in the lead,” Tupelo swim coach Lucas Smith said. “You can put him anywhere you want to and tell him to compete … and he’ll do it.”

Success in football

Tupelo football assistant coach Lamar Aldridge praised Ray’s willingness to do whatever it takes.

“He’s a hard-nosed player, a good guy to have,” said Aldridge, the team’s defensive coordinator. “He’s unselfish. He does whatever you ask him to do.”

Ray, who recorded 75 tackles, intercepted two passes and blocked a kick for the state’s top defense, nearly skipped his senior season.

His plan was to concentrate on swimming and baseball, until his mom got a call from a football assistant coach in mid- July wanting to know if her son was planning to participate in summer football workouts.

“I’m so glad I decided to play,” Ray said. “We went all the way, to the championship game. It was really fun to be a part of it.”

Diamond tough

Ray’s athletic pursuits didn’t end in December when the Golden Wave lost in the 6A state championship game to Oak Grove. This spring, he’s starting in the outfield for the Golden Wave after leading the team with a .482 batting average in 2013.

“He can do it all for us … hit, run the bases, cover ground in the outfield,” Tupelo baseball coach Gary Enis said in the preseason. “He’s an exceptional athlete.”

Ray’s prowess on the diamond was evident earlier this season in a division game against Hernando. His triple plated three key runs. On the same play, he was thrown out when he attempted to stretch the three-bagger into an inside-the-park grand slam. Many thought he scored on head-first slide at the plate.

Tweeted one enthused observer: “What a freak athlete.”

Ray’s also a talent behind the microphone. He recently was awarded a first-place certificate from the Mississippi Scholastic Press Association as television anchor for THS.