By Robert Wilson
Pearlene Fairley had coached in the Girls State Tournament before, winning a Class 1A state championship with the Pelahatchie girls in 2015 and going to the tournament three more years after that.
So Fairley, now in her first year at Class 6A Clinton, knew her team would be nervous and she did her best to settle them down Wednesday night in the state semifinal game against Meridian, considered the No. 1 team in the state, at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
“My players had the jitters,” Fairley said. “These girls had never been there. It can be overwhelming. This is a big place and it’s hard to shoot in here if you aren’t used to it. I told the girls to listen to me and pretend like we were playing at home. We were the home team and we were wearing white. We finally calmed down.”
Clinton had a big second quarter to catch up and then held off Meridian for a 63-51 victory and a berth in the 6A state championship game against Olive Branch Saturday at 5 p.m. at Ole Miss in Oxford.
Senior Kimbreyell McBride had 16 points, senior Jakayla Johnson 14 and senior Niela Hawthrone 11 for Clinton, which improved to 25-4. The Lady Arrows are trying to win the third girls state title in school history, the others were in 2006 and 1990.
Fairley played at Pelahatchie, Hinds Community College and Alabama A&M. She coached middle school in Birmingham and Northwest Rankin before getting a chance to coach at her alma mater. She was there for eight years and brought home the state title in 2015. Now she is one win away from her second gold ball.
“We’ve got to bring energy, play with great effort, play good defense and make our shots to win it,” Fairley said. “We’ve played a tough schedule this year to get ready for this moment. I’ve got about eight or nine girls who can score and score in transition. But we’ve got play good defense to make it happen. I want them to swarm like bees.”
Velma Jackson and St. Andrew’s will be playing for the Class 3A state championship in the Boys State Tournament Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Pavilion at Ole Miss in Oxford.
The two teams play in the same district and have played each other twice this season with Velma Jackson winning both times, 51-38 at St. Andrew’s on Jan. 14 and 60-58 Jan. 3 at Velma Jackson. Velma Jackson has won the 3A state title five of the last seven years, including last season. St. Andrew’s won the state title in 2018.
Both had big wins Wednesday afternoon in the semifinals. Velma Jackson, 28-5, defeated Houston 61-44 as Josh Lee had 16 points, Leaveon Griffin 13 and Charlie Jones and Jordan Harvey 10 each. St. Andrew’s, 27-8, defeated Holly Springs 64-54 as Rashad Bolden had 36 points and Jake Dowdell 15.
“We had a good team win,” Velma Jackson coach Chris Love said. “(Sixth man) Jordan Harvey changed the game with his defense, shot blocking and passing (Harvey had 10 points, 5 for 5 from the field, 8 rebounds, 5 blocked shots ad 3 assists). We had four players in double figures. St. Andrew’s is a very well coached team by Coach (Brian) Cronin. Rashad Bolden is probably one of the smartest basketball players you will ever see and is a winner. They have a great program.”
“It is a great feeling getting another opportunity at the 3A title,” St. Andrew’s coach Brian Cronin said. “It’s a very hard journey and I couldn’t be more proud of our team to be back in this position. VJ is a great team and defending champions so we have our hands full and we know that. They don’t have many weaknesses so we will to have to play a near perfect game to be able to pull off a victory. The Region 6 district is brutal with VJ and Yazoo County so we are all familiar with each other. We are looking forward to another opportunity and that’s all we can ask for.”
Jackson Prep’s baseball team has won three consecutive MAIS state championships and six of the past seven seasons. But Prep coach Brent Heavener will have to win this year without All-American outfielder Jerrion Ealy, who is playing football and baseball at Ole Miss as a freshman this season.
Heavener has plenty of firepower coming back this season. He has five players who have verbal commitments to Ole Miss and Mississippi State: junior third baseman-right handed pitcher Riley Maddox (Ole Miss), junior first baseman-right-handed pitcher Mason Nichols (Ole Miss), junior shortstop-right-handed pitcher Kelly Crumpton (Ole Miss), junior second baseman Jeffrey Ince (MSU) and freshman outfielder Rives Reynolds (MSU). Also, senior catcher-utility player Reed Kellum signed with Hinds Community College and senior right-handed pitcher Seth Bagwell with Northeast Mississippi CC.
Heavener has moved junior Thaxton Burch from second base to centerfield to replace Ealy. Cy Craig, Mills Murphy and Reynolds along with returning starter Sam Buchanan, who has played only one game since he was a key starter on Prep’s Overall runner up basketball team, are alternating in the outfield. Sophomore Eli Burch and Kellum are alternating at catcher and designated hitter.
Prep has a 5-4 record, but has played a tough schedule, including losses to Class 6A public schools Tupelo and Oxford. Prep plays 6A public school Warren Central Thursday and then goes to play George County, Memphis University School, New Hope and Senatobia on the Mississippi Gulf Coast next week during spring break.
Prep has yet to play a home game on their field on their Lakeland Drive campus because of flooding and Heavener isn’t sure when they will be able to. Prep has played home games at Smith-Wills Stadium and in Vicksburg.