By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Meridian pulled off one giant-killing in the postseason when it knocked off unbeaten and top-ranked Jackson Wingfield.
Rashad Perkins made sure his Starkville Yellowjackets didn’t suffer the same fate Saturday night in the MHSAA Class 6A state tournament championship game.
The 6-foot-5 senior forward scored 25 points, including a crucial fourth-quarter layup to lift Starkville to a 57-51 victory over Meridian at the Mississippi Coliseum.
“It was an intense game; we knew we had to step it up,” said Perkins, a Southern Miss signee. “Meridian’s a very good team. They made us play.”
In the fourth quarter with Starkville clinging to a 51-46 lead, Perkins rocketed down the lane to score on a layup with 2 minutes, 47 seconds remaining to give his team a 7-point edge.
“When Rashad scored in transition he gave us a cushion,” said Starkville coach Greg Carter, who was holding the gold ball. “He had some huge answers for us.”
On the play, Meridian’s big gun, 6-8 junior Rodney Hood, fouled out. He scored 14 points, 10 in the second half.
“Hood was unbelievable in the second half,” Carter said.
The state title was the first for a Starkville boys program since 1961.
“Since the first week in February I thought we’ve been the best team in the state,” Carter said. “Other coaches can make that claim, too, but we’re the only one who can in 6A.”
The Yellowjackets (29-2) will play Friday in the Gand Slam against the winner of 1A Ingomar and 2A West Bolivar.
Starkville’s dynamic duo of Perkins and point guard Edward Townsel scored all 12 of the team’s points – Perkins had eight – in the third quarter to give the ‘Jackets a 43-37 lead.
Perkins showed a little of his perimeter game in the period when he connected on a 10-foot runner and 15-footer fall-away jumper.
It was Perkins and Townsel who powered the ‘Jackets 24-15 lead with 4:52 remaining in the second quarter. Townsel’s second 3-point bomb of the half gave them their 9-point advantage.
However, the Wildcats answered with a 10-0 and went ahead 25-24 on a 3-pointer by Marcus Hurn with 2:23 left in the half.
Starkville rallied with a 7-1 spurt to take a 31-26 halftime lead.
Perkins scored the ‘Jackets final basket in the quarter on a follow-up dunk off a Townsel miss.
Four of Perkins’ five first-half field goals came on dunks, mainly on feeds from his talented point guard. The estimated crowd of 4,000 roared when he nailed a reverse dunk on a heave to the rim by Townsel in the opening minutes of the second quarter.
Townsel added 11 points for the winners while Marcus Hurn paced Meridian (26-7) with 15.