JACKSON — When the Falkner Eagles walked off the court at the Mississippi Coliseum Tuesday night, they had ended their basketball season losing 72-63 to Mount Olive.
Mount Olive’s Pirates (33-2) have to be considered the favorite for the boys State Class 1A championship, but Falkner almost won.
Before the game Falkner coach Tim Leatherwood said he didn’t know what to expect, but other coaches who saw both teams play thought they were mirror images.
Both only seemed comfortable scoring off the fast break. Both played physical hard-nosed ball. But the game pivoted on the the diferences in the two clubs. Falkner center Bradley Prather, who also directed traffic on the perimeter, dominated the paint. And Mount Olive finally won on outside shooting with eight 3-point shots.
Like most tournament games, it finally boiled down to one team getting the right break or series of breaks. Falkner headed home knowing it belonged in the tournament.
The Eagles’ final record was 22-10, after a 5-7 start while the team adjusted to the arrival of the football players. The Falkner football team went 9-2, two games deep into the playoffs. With the two sports together, Falkner had its seasons extended seven games.
“The teams we lost to (early) were all good teams. Every one of them was a 20-win team,” Leatherwood said.
Once the Eagles started winning, Falkner went 17-3, losing only at Middleton, Tenn., which was just elilminated from the Tennessee state tournament, North 1A champion Biggersville, and now Mount Olive.
The players realize the year they had.
“We’re not down. We have had a good season and people didn’t expect us to do much,” Bradley Prather said. “This has been a good year for Falkner. We made the playoffs in football, basketall, and our cheerleaders are sixth in the state.”
While the state basketball tournament has been going on, so has cheerleading competition. Falkner was one of three area teams in the top 10 of Category A. Belmont is No. 4 and Water Valley seventh.
Friday Category B competition will include small school division champions Kossuth, Corinth and Mantachie.
Baldwyn principal Sammy Bryant was bursting with pride for the trophy that his Bearcat squad won. The Bearcat cheerleaders won the overall academic award because their 3.73 combined grade point average was the highest of the 65 squads in the competition.
“That’s the really important one,” Bryant said.
Water Valley with a 3.63 and Kossuth with a 3.61 were in the top 10.
Date with history
When the Oxford and Tishomingo County girls play at 1:30 p.m Friday for the first girls Class 4A championship for either school, the winner will be the first Northeast Mississippi girls 4A champion.
“Tishomingo County (27-9) is a real good team,” Oxford coach Jeff Nelson said. “I have been trying to tell people down here just how tough our Division (1-4A) is. And there’s Lafayette and Alcorn Central that were good enough to be here.”
The 32-2 Oxford Chargers should win it. Oxford’s bench is led by super-freshman Meg Banahan and may match a solid starting five led by Nicki Johnson and Lynndy Fitts. This is the fourth meeting of the two schools and Oxford won the first three.
But the historian in me remembers another team from Tishomingo County Belmont that lost four times to Hatley only to win the Class BB title game in 1983. Wonder if the in-your-face defense of Christy Glidewell, Sylvia Powell and Co. can repeat history? No.
Wheeler rates own chapter
State tournament watcher at statistician Van Dyess is putting together a 75th anniversary history of the tournament for 1997. He is going to have to write a whole chapter about one team not here this year: Wheeler’s Eagles, who hold the record for 33 tournament appearances and 11 championships.
The Harrison Central girls will play for the Class 5A title Friday and try to match Wheeler for 11 championships. Harrison Central is making it’s 23rd appearance, second in girls only to 25 appearances by Belmont, which has 7 championships, but was unable to defend its 1995 Class 1A title this year.
Not only is Wheeler not here. There is no team from Prentiss County, which has a total of 31 championships. I wonder how long it’s been since that happened?