Wildcats punch ticket to Big House

By By Marty Stamper/EMG sports assistant
Feb. 23, 2002
HORN LAKE The Meridian Wildcats clinched their second trip to the Class 5A State Tournament in the last three years with a 53-49 victory over Clinton in the Class 5A North State Tournament Friday night.
Meridian, 20-10, will play Natchez for the North half title today at 3:30 p.m. Natchez crushed Horn Lake 89-61 in Friday's early game.
The biggest play in Meridian's win didn't come from a Wildcat that was on the court at the time. In fact, the Arrows set themselves up for the misfortune.
Clinton's Patrick Veal had just snapped a 48-48 tie with a free throw with 1:46 remaining. Veal missed his second shot, but the Wildcats were called for a lane violation giving Veal another shot. Following a timeout, Orlando Harper instead stepped up to shoot the free throw which he made. Meridian third-year coach Ernie Watson noticed the switch and after an officials' conference, the point was taken off and Clinton was assessed a technical foul.
Keno LeFlore made the first of his two free throws on the technical foul to tie the game at 49-49. With ball possession following the technical, LeFlore made two free throws with 35.5 seconds showing for a 51-49 edge.
Jamaine Winfield added a free throw for a 52-49 lead with 10.8 seconds showing and Harper fired a desparation airball with 2.1 seconds to go.
A free throw by Quann Carlisle with 1.1 seconds left sealed the win and extended the Wildcats' win streak to six.
Clinton led 12-6 after one quarter and by as much as 25-13 with 3:30 to go in the first half before 6-foot-3 Dandy Dozen guard Jarekus Singleton picked up his third foul with 2:24 on the clock. He sat the remainder of the first half.
Meridian closed the first half with an 8-0 run to get to within 25-21 at intermission.
Jason Windom, who was scoreless in the first half, got Meridian's first nine points of the third quarter as the Wildcats grabbed a 30-27 lead at the 4:26 mark.
The third quarter, which saw five lead changes and two ties, ended with Meridian clinging to a 36-35 lead after a two-handed slam by Fred Cole.
The Arrows went on a 6-0 run to grab a 43-38 advantage in the first two minutes of the final period.
Clinton was leading 43-42 when center Kevin Byrne fouled out with 4:38 to play.
The teams swapped the lead six times and had four ties in the fourth quarter before LeFlore made 3-of-4 free throws to put the Wildcats up for good with 35.5 seconds showing.
Windom led Meridian with 13 points, while LeFlore scored 12, Winfield 11, and Cole six.
Singleton led Clinton, 23-9, with 16 points. Veal finished with 12 and Colby Harris had nine.
Watson knows his team will be in for a war today with Natchez. Both teams are assured of berths in next week's state tournament.
The Bulldogs hit five 3-pointers in the first half of their win over Horn Lake.
Horn Lake, 25-8, will face Clinton at 2 p.m. in today's consolation game. The winner advances to state, while the loser's season will end.

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