By Brad Locke
JACKSON - Tupelo assistant coach Clint Jordan played the role of Meridian's Whitney Hood in practice this week. He must have played the part well.
Because his pupil, Lady Wave post player Destini Shannon, took on the real thing Wednesday night and came out on top. So did Tupelo, as it advanced to the Class 5A state championship game with a 60-53 victory over Meridian at the Mississippi Coliseum.
"We know Hood is a great player, but Destini was ready for her," said first-year Tupelo head coach Stephanie Murphy. "She was used to getting hit and banged on, so she stepped up and played a good game."
Shannon, a senior, had 17 points and nine rebounds.
"It was a lot of work," said Shannon. "I didn't want to do all that hard work and not let it pay off."
Tupelo, the North No. 2 seed, gets the winner of today's Brandon-Murrah game in Saturday's title match.
The Lady Wave (34-3), ranked No. 1 by the Daily Journal, beat the team Murphy coached into the state final the previous two seasons. The 29-year-old, in her third year as a head coach, admitted to having mixed emotions.
"I'm very excited Tupelo's in the finals," she said, "but you work with somebody for two years, you're always going to have love for them."
Tupelo exacted revenge for a 66-54 loss to Meridian on Jan. 27 at the Wayne County Invitational. Hood, a 6-foot-1 Dandy Dozen selection, scored 17 points that game, while Tiara Parker had 25.
On Wednesday, Hood had 16 but only two in the fourth quarter. Parker added 15.
"We lost that game because we didn't do the little things we needed to do to win," Meridian coach Patricia Wilson said.
Murphy had told her players to use revenge as motivation, and senior Katie Hancock did that as she remembered the January setback and Tupelo's state semifinal loss to Meridian two years ago.
"Bitter memories. I wanted to wipe those away and go out on a good note playing Meridian," said Hancock, who scored 10 of her 17 points in the final period.
Tupelo led by nine early, but otherwise the game was tighter than Barry Bonds' cap until the final minutes.
Shannon gave Tupelo a 42-41 lead with 6 minutes, 35 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The lead reached 49-43 on a deep Maggie McFerrin 3-pointer at the 3:26 mark.
Hancock made it 52-43 with a floater and a free throw, and Meridian (25-7), the South No. 1 seed, couldn't rally.
The 5-11 Shannon's effort was aided by 5-11 sophomore Mandy Collins, who contributed seven points and eight rebounds.
Hood had no such interior help.
"It's always good when you can have balance, and Mandy stepped up and did a great job on the rebounding and making key baskets," Murphy said. "We had a lot of people step up and play small roles, and it ended up being a big win for us."
Senior Natasha Berry, who left her shot in Tupelo, still managed nine points along with four boards, two assists, two steals and five deflections.
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