Finding their way: Ashley's Hawks soar to Jackson after .500 regular season

By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal

MYRTLE – Myrtle’s fourth-seeded Hawks won three games in three nights last week to capture the North Mississippi 1A tournament championship.
None of the victories were easy for Jonathan Ashley’s team, one that entered the tournament with a .500 record and following back-to-back losses in the Division 2 tournament.
“This is a remarkable group,” Ashley said. “Nobody gave them much of a chance going out as a No. 4 seed. I’m not sure how they did it, but they found a way to win.”
The Hawks (21-17), who play Dexter at 8 p.m. Friday in the semifinals of the state tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson, trailed Coldwater by 21 points at one time in the first half of the North quarterfinals. They rallied to win 72-70.
In the semifinals, they edged H.W. Byers, 69-68, after trailing by six with under a minute left, then defeated Drew, 68-63, to capture the championship and the North’s top seed in the state tournament.
Earlier in the week, the Hawks beat top-seeded Biggersville, 61-58, on the road in the first round of North half.
“These guys showed a lot of heart and played with a lot of effort,” said Ashley, whose team is making its fifth consecutive trip to state. “Even when we were down 14 to Coldwater in the second half, these guys had the attitude that, ‘we’re going to get this done.’
“Nobody was hanging their head. They expected to find a way to win.”
Three in a row
Ashley helped prepare his team for a three-night postseason run with some creative scheduling earlier this season. He scheduled three games on consecutive nights against Baldwyn, New Albany and Belmont.
The Hawks lost all three.
“In the North half you’re going to play three tough teams in three nights,” he said. “We took it on the chin, but it paid off for us.”
Myrtle looks to its guards – sophomore Robert Montgomery and senior Russ Yates – for scoring, defense and leadership. The other starters are Heriah Dodson, Nick Milsap and Cruz Weatherall. Dodson leads the team in rebounding, averaging 6.5 per game.
The 5-foot-8 Montgomery, a three-year starter, averages 18.3 points and has taken a team-high 39 charges this season. Yates averages 13.5 points and has connected on a team-best 59 3-pointers.
“We have to have No. 2 (Montgomery) and No. 15 (Yates) have good nights for us,” Ashley said. “Montgomery does what you ask him to do. A lot of times he tries to put too much on his shoulders.”
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593 or gene.phelps@journalinc.com.