When it was all said and done, Southeast had the last laugh
After the greatest moment of her basketball playing career, Monique Horner looked like at any minute she might scream "I'm going to Disney Land."
She didn't, but it sure would have been fitting.
After all, Horner and her teammates might as well have been the seven dwarfs in the eyes of most of the state's media heading into Friday's Class 3A state championship game.
But after a thrilling, 81-77 win over seventh-ranked and heavily-favored South Pontotoc at the Big House, the Lady Tigers were giants.
A team that started the year with a 5-4 record and later was 8-6. But also a team that won 24 of its final 26 games, finishing with the school's first state championship since 1968 and a sparkling 32-8 mark.
I'd have to agree.
This is the same Southeast Lauderdale team that many folks picked to finish fifth inside its own division. But with Horner and head coach Joe Miller leading the way and with a rugged Division 5-3A schedule to help the Lady Tigers slowly but surely molded into a championship team.
Did they ever. While Horner scored a Big House record-tying 43 points Friday, junior forward Kenitta Cooley stepped it up with 18 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Freshman Ebony Moore also had a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, while Lesley Ruffin grabbed 11 boards and had three steals.
South Pontotoc, which finished 35-4, was supposed to shut down Southeast with its stellar press. And while the Lady Cougars were impressive, it was still Southeast standing on top when the final horn sounded.
But Southeast didn't. The Lady Tigers recognized their weaknesses and improved on them. As Horner's leadership role took effect, her teammates grew. So did their responsibilities.
And while it may not have always looked great and while the turnovers were still plentiful Southeast eventually got better with the press.
Speaking of Choctaw Central, head coach Willis Tullos made his way through the mob of fans around Horner. He shuffled side to side around the crowd until he finally made his way to her. And as she looked up from signing one of hundreds of autographs, Tullos said …
He should be.
He helped her get there.
Rocky Higginbotham is the sports editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.