Columbus High School’s Robert Woodard II goes for a reverse layup Wednesday in a victory against Starkville. Woodard II, who was named the state of Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year on Thursday, will lead Columbus against Meridian at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A State title game at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Photo by: Chris Todd/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
March 9, 2018 10:26:26 AM
JACKSON -- If you plan to send a late-night text to Columbus High School senior Casey Smith tonight, there is a good chance it will get returned.
"I have been waiting for this moment since my eighth-grade year," Smith said. "I won't sleep any Friday night. This will be one of the biggest days of my life."
The big day for Smith and Columbus High will be Saturday when they take on Meridian for the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State championship at 8 p.m. at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. The game can be seen locally on My Mississippi.
"When the season starts, you want to play on the final day," Columbus coach Anthony Carlyle said. "It doesn't matter how many times you play in the coliseum, there is nothing quite as exciting as a championship game there. You never take one for granted. You cherish each and every time you play on that floor."
Carlyle guided Velma Jackson to four state championships in five seasons before taking the Columbus job last summer. With a roster full of seniors and some key transfers, the Falcons were primed to make a run.
"Each year, you think this can be the year, but you never know for sure," Columbus senior Robert Woodard II said. "You have to play well, but you also have to have some good things happen. Every team faces adversity during a season. It's a matter of how you respond to that adversity."
Columbus (26-6) has weathered adversity nicely in the second half of the season. The Falcons take the floor riding a 15-game winning streak. At the coliseum, Columbus defeated Terry (41-38) and Starkville (44-34).
Arguably the best rivalry in Class 6A basketball, Columbus took control of the latest installment against Starkville by holding the Yellow Jackets to two points in the second quarter.
Now Carlyle must have his team ready to perform at that level again.
"Fortunately, it is the championship game, so you will be up for that," Carlyle said. "It's very hard to put a win against somebody like Starkville behind you. That being said, we now come back out and play for the whole thing, so that's a big motivator. If anything, winning the way we did Wednesday night might just bump the confidence level up a notch."
Woodard II was chosen the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year Thursday. It is a second-straight year the Mississippi State signee has won the award. He enters the final game of his Columbus High career averaging 18.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, two blocked shots, and 1.9 steals per game.
"Humbled and blessed," Woodard II said. "Credit goes to my teammates, my coaches, and my family for all of the support they have given over the years. It will mean so much more to go out with a championship."
Meridian (32-1) has won 25-straight games. It is coming off victories against Southaven (57-40) and Greenville (62-52) at the coliseum.
"A team with no weaknesses," Carlyle said. "They play very well together. That's what you expect in the state championship game. It's a heavyweight battle."
Woodard II started on the 2016 state championship team at Columbus High, the program's first. Denijay Harris also had a vital role on that team and will start Saturday. In 2017, Columbus slipped to 16-12 and fell in the first round of the playoffs.
During the offseason, Carlyle came to the program, as did Aaron Johnson (from Tyler, Texas), RJ DeLoach (from Columbus Christian Academy), and Smith (from West Lowndes).
Smith was a captain on the West Lowndes High team that lost to Ashland in the 2016 Class 1A State championship game. He has waited patiently for his final chance to finish No. 1.
"To win this championship with this group of guys would be special," Smith said. "It would be the best thing to happen to me on a basketball court."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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