Feb. 27—The Meridian High School girls carried a 43-34 lead into the final period with a state semifinal berth on the line Friday night.
In the third round of the MHSAA Class 6A playoffs, Gulfport had been able to keep pace for most of the contest, but that changed in the fourth quarter. The MHS defense stepped up and held the Lady Admirals to just three points in the last eight minutes and erupted for 16 points themselves to get a 59-37 win and punch their ticket to the Mississippi Coliseum and the Final Four.
"It feels great," MHS girls basketball coach Deneshia Faulkner said. "These girls have worked so hard, and they deserve it."
The Lady Wildcats jumped out to a 17-4 lead after one quarter, but the Lady Admirals started clawing their way back in the second quarter and managed to cut the MHS lead to single digits late before Debreasha Powe hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put her team up 32-20 at intermission.
"That gave us momentum to keep pushing for two more quarters," senior Arianna Patton said.
Powe had a game-high 20 points and finished with five 3s, and Faulkner said that one at the end of the second quarter was big from a momentum standpoint after the Lady Wildcats' shooting had gone cold in the waning minutes of the frame.
"It was a reward," Faulkner said. "We had a lot of energy and a lot of effort, and it pushed the momentum even further for us."
MHS only scored 11 points in the third quarter, while Gulfport had 13, but the Lady Wildcats got on a roll in the fourth quarter, and the Lady Admirals were unable to match that momentum.
"We kept our energy up and our momentum going because our energy intimidates a lot of teams," Patton said. "I think our energy threw them off a bit and made us go up more."
Syria Walker finished with 11 points for MHS. Patton, who finished the contest with 16 points, said she was grateful to be returning to Jackson but maintained a business-like approach to the accomplishment. The Lady Wildcats reached the state semifinals last year only to lose to Clinton 63-51, a loss that has haunted Patton for an entire year.
"It feels good, but we're not going to rest because the semifinals are where we left off last year, so we're trying to come in with the mindset of bringing it up a notch and going and getting our revenge," Patton explained.
As they prepare to face Olive Branch Wednesday, Patton said that loss last year is still a motivating factor for everyone.
"Most definitely," Patton said. "It's been on my mind all year. It's all I can think of when I get on the court."
MHS (16-3) will take on Olive Branch at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Mississippi Coliseum.