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Meridian will have to go through Tupelo to win championship

By By Rocky Higginbotham/The Meridian Star
March 9, 2001
Somehow, Donald Shirley just knew his Meridian High girls' basketball team would have to beat Tupelo if it was to claim the school's first-ever state title.
For the third straight year, Meridian faces off against Tupelo in the Class 5A Girls State Tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum. Each time, the stakes have risen, and tonight, the two tangle for the 5A state championship.
The contest, which will be televised by WJTV in Jackson and fed to most CBS affiliates in the state, tips off at 6:15 p.m.
No. 1 ranked Tupelo has lost just once in Mississippi all season and sports a 31-2 overall record. The two-time defending 5A runnerups own a 12-point win over Meridian earlier this season, and the Lady Wave have eliminated MHS in the state tournament each of the past two seasons.
But MHS has yet to win a title, and the last time the Lady Wildcats made it to the championship game was in 1995.
This year's Meridian team, which returned four starters from a year ago, is 32-4. The Lady Wildcats spent most of the first half of the season ranked No. 1 in the state before back-to-back disappointing losses to Tupelo and Huffman, Ala., in a Christmas tournament at Columbus.
MHS was also dealt losses at Neshoba Central and Wayne County. But Meridian coasted to the South State championship, then blew out Jackson Provine 72-39 in the 5A semifinals earlier this week.
Still, Shirley says he won't have to do any talking to his team to get it ready for Tupelo. The Lady Wildcats sport six seniors, and have remained focused on their ultimate goal most of the season.
To get to that goal, Meridian knew it would have to go through Tupelo and senior guard Tan White, considered one of the top seniors in the country by several publications. In fact, Shirley welcomed the contest with Tupelo at Christmas because he thought it might help his team later this season.
During that game, however, Meridian fell behind big and couldn't recover, despite the fact that White had an "off-game".
In last year's 63-60 semifinal win over Meridian, White scored 42 points one shy of the girls' state tourney record. This year, even though the 5-8 superstar averages 26 points, she's had a balanced attack to help, led by junior guard Tiffany Garth.
Meridian, on the other hand, relies on the powerful inside duo of 6-1 center Cantea Brown and 5-11 forward Kanecia Williams. Junior point guard Stephanie Mosley is the playmaker, while senior guards Cassandra Harris, Chelse Alford and Chandra Collier are big contributors, as well.
Shirley said Wednesday his team appeared focused on the task at hand.
Rocky Higginbotham is the sports editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at rhigginbotham@themeridianstar.com.