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Starkville ready to win title on court

 

Starkville High School’s Tabreea Gandy attempts a shot Wednesday in a victory against Pearl. Gandy will help lead her teammates against Murrah at 6 p.m. Saturday in the championship game of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State tournament at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.

Starkville High School’s Tabreea Gandy attempts a shot Wednesday in a victory against Pearl. Gandy will help lead her teammates against Murrah at 6 p.m. Saturday in the championship game of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State tournament at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Photo by: Chris Todd/Special to The Dispatch

 

Scott Walters

 

 

JACKSON -- Starkville High School senior Jariyah Covington has her Saturday planned out. 

 

"When the game ends, I want the celebration," Covington said. "I want to be out on the court with my teammates and all of my family members. People will take pictures. We will celebrate by holding the gold ball up at midcourt. We are going to do this right." 

 

Starkville (27-2) will face Murrah (30-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday for the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State championship at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. 

 

The game will be shown locally on My Mississippi. 

 

A year ago, Starkville won its first girls basketball state championship in 25 years. On the court, Olive Branch beat Starkville 57-54, but in September the MHSAA ordered Olive Branch to vacate that title for playing an ineligible player. Starkville was awarded the state championship -- its first title since 1992. 

 

With four starters back from that team, not winning the title on the court has been a major motivation. 

 

"We are happy to be champions, but this one would be so much sweeter," Starkville senior Tabreea Gandy said. "That has been the motivation the entire season, winning it on the court. We want to be the champions. We want everybody leaving the game to know the champion. It's been strange trying to win a second-straight championship this way. It has been a huge motivation." 

 

While the championship felt good several months later, the heartache was real when Olive Branch survived a heavyweight battle at Mississippi Coliseum. 

 

"I just remember the locker room," Covington said. "Everybody in there crying. The pain was real. We don't want to experience that again. We don't want that feeling. Nobody wants that feeling. If we have tears this year, they need to be tears of joy. Knowing you didn't do enough when you could have done more hurts." 

 

Murrah and Starkville have been favorites for the Class 6A title since the season started. In 2016, Murrah beat Starkville 44-42 in the semifinals of the tournament and then beat Callaway to win the state championship. 

 

Last season, Murrah fell to Olive Branch in the semifinals to set up the Olive Branch-Starkville showdown for the title. 

 

This season, Starkville has won two of three meetings between the region rivals. Murrah won 51-42 in Jackson before Starkville returned the favor five days later with a 43-38 win at home. 

 

In the Region 3 tournament, Starkville beat Murrah 45-42 on Murrah's home floor to win the championship. 

 

"There is a lot of familiarity and a lot of respect between the two teams," Starkville coach Kristie Williams said. "When you have played somebody this many times, it comes down to execution. The good thing is you have beaten this team, so you have a higher level of confidence. Sometimes, a championship game is unknown. This one is not. We know the capabilities." 

 

Williams said she feels pressure to deliver the school a state championship. 

 

"The monkey is still on my back," Williams said. "Granted, he has loosened up his grip a little bit." 

 

Starkville advanced with a 60-51 victory against Pearl on Wednesday night. The Lady Jackets broke a 34-34 tie with a 12-0 run. 

 

Senior center Kirsten Thompson -- the only new starter this season -- had a big hand in the decisive run. 

 

"This team knows when to turn it up," Thompson said. "We have been waiting all year for these games in Jackson. For a player, there is nothing more exciting than playing for a state championship." 

 

For Covington, Saturday is scripted in her head. It's just a matter of real life taking over and making that dream a reality. 

 

"When we leave Jackson, this time around we want the gold ball on the bus," Covington said.  

 

Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott

 

Scott is sports copy editor and reporter

 

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