White's heroics hand Lady Wildcats another disappointing finish
Another trip to the Big House. Another disappointing end for Meridian's girls and head coach Donald Shirley.
Shirley, making his seventh straight appearance at the Girls State Tournament, left without a gold ball again Friday night when top-ranked Tupelo used a late surge to knock off Meridian 56-42.
Just like he did last season, Shirley laid most of the blame on himself.
The Lady Wildcats led the seesaw affair 36-34 with a little more than six minutes left to go. But from that point on, Tupelo outscored Meridian 22-6 with all-state guard Tan White scoring 11 of those points.
White, who was just 5-of-19 from the field in the first three quarters, hit five of her final seven shots and finished with a game-high 28 points.
While Shirley blamed himself, outgoing Meridian High athletic director Mac Barnes relayed the message that most of the MHS fans had to be feeling.
Each of the seven years, Shirley's Meridian team felt it had a shot of winning it all, none more so than in 1995.
That's when the Lady Wildcats let a double-digit lead slip away and lost a one-point heartbreaker to Harrison Central in the title game.
Meridian thought it had a chance last year, but White put up 42 points in a 63-60 semifinal game that eliminated the Lady Wildcats.
This year? MHS felt sure it was one of the contenders.
The Lady Wildcats returned four starters from a year ago. They spent the better part of two months ranked No. 1 in the state and climbed as high as No. 14 in the nation.
Despite the four regular-season losses that followed, Meridian still appeared it might be playing its best basketball of the year before Friday's championship game.
And despite a tough 1-2-2 Tupelo press, the Lady Wildcats were six minutes away from winning their first state title.
More times than not, that's what happens.
I saw it with players like Kevin Granger and James Denson. Shoot, I saw it Friday afternoon when Southeast Lauderdale rode Monique Horner to the 3A title. And I saw it again as White put her Lady Wave teammates on her back in the final six minutes.
You can prepare teams. You can draw up the Xs and Os.
You can tell them where to be and what to do, but … the great players really do step up and take over.
Rocky Higginbotham is the sports editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at email@example.com.