By D.E. Wheeler/Special to the Journal
TUPELO – Just one week ago today, the Tupelo Golden Wave basketball team was on the court at the Mississippi Coliseum, scant seconds away from a Class 6A state championship.
But the ball bounced against the Wave as the Jim Hill Tigers defeated Tupelo 76-74 in overtime to claim the title.
“Our effort was there, our kids gave a championship effort,” Tupelo coach Grant Pate said. “They were determined to come back from 19 points down, when a lot of teams would not have.
“There are not any regrets.”
The Wave, which finished the season 26-9, did trail 45-26 in the third quarter, later rallying to take a four-point lead in the fourth quarter. Then Mississippi State signee Fred Thomas rallied Jim Hill, helping doom the Wave in overtime.
Moving forward, Tupelo faces its second significant graduation loss in two seasons as the Wave lose six seniors from the 2012 squad including its top two scorers – Rashon Coleman and Dajon Reno.
“Next year’s team will be really young, inexperienced, but talented,” Pate said. “These guys benefited from a historical season, and that’s going to help them understand what they can do.”
Pate points out current juniors Jordan Garmon and Alex Foster, who were part-time starters, as key players for next season. Pate was also quick to mention current freshman Antonio Green, who scored 14 points off the bench in the Jim Hill loss.
“And the current sophomore group was really successful a year ago, only losing one game,” Pate said.
The Lady Wave were young, with seven freshmen on this season’s roster, and will still be young next season.
“We got 20 wins, and the girls exceeded expectations,” first-year Lady Wave coach Matt Justice said. “I knew those freshmen were ready, and we couldn’t have had a winning season without them.”
After its 20-11 effort, getting as far as the first round of the 6A North Tournament, Tupelo only loses two seniors, including all-everything guard Antoinette Riddle. One of only two juniors in this year’s team, Casey Marshall (10.3 points per game) returns, with Jaleigha Polk (10.4 ppg) posting some of the best numbers by Tupelo freshmen during the season.
“I think the team will be more mature, but still young,” Justice said. “We’ll be trying to build on the success of this year’s team.”