By Gene Phelps and Brandon Speck/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Booneville’s boys said goodbye this week to a senior class that played in three Class 3A state championship basketball games.
The group, led by high-flying forward Kenny Paul Geno, won the gold ball in 2011 and lost on its last two attempts, including the 45-44 loss Friday to Velma Jackson.
“It’s not just (Geno),” head coach Michael Smith said. “He sacrifices a lot to be a team player. They are a lot better people than they are players, and they’re pretty good players.
“They’ve opened a lot of eyes around here with the way they play the game. They try to do what’s right. They’ve meant a lot to our program and they’ll be hard to replace.
“You don’t always have to win to be a champion.”
The seniors are Geno, Daryl Barefield, Antonio Crump, Jordan Miller, Jazz Prather, Ross Smith and Isaiah Witherspoon.
GENO’S LAST SHOT
Geno sank a 3-pointer with 32 seconds remaining to pull the Blue Devils to within one, 42-41.
Then with seven ticks left, he fired up another bomb in an attempt to tie the score. The ball bounced twice on the rim and came out.
“You’ve got to drive and kick. You can’t let them set up,” Smith said. “They’re good defensively. They’re going to switch everything on Kenny and Jack (Nichols). You’ve got to catch them on the run.”
NEVER GIVE UP
Pontotoc’s Kayla Russell, even with the final seconds of the clocking ticking down in a stinging 23-point loss, never neglected her duty Friday night.
Her job was to cover Bay High’s talented Christa Reed. Russell remained in her face until the final horn sounded.
Reed was 3-of-8 from the field and scored 17. She scored 10 of those on free throws.
“We never gave up,” she said. “Nobody thought we’d be anything this year, but we proved we were by coming here.”
Pontotoc finished the season 31-4 and won the North Mississippi championship after winning a state title in 2012.
Lady Warriors coach Bill Russell was proud of his entire team’s effort against the state’s No. 1 team.
“Really, nobody gave us a chance,” he said. “I got sick of hearing that. You can’t measure what my kids have inside.”
RAY IN THE HOUSE
There have been a few tweets from fans during the week pleading with Mississippi State coach Rick Ray to come watch Geno play in the state tournament.
Ray was at the Big House on Friday and was waiting around the Booneville end of the coliseum following the game.