February 28, 2013
Craig Dailey said his good friend Christopher Hedglin told him as he left the gym Saturday night, “This feeling doesn’t get old.”
“No, it doesn’t,” was the the coach’s response.
The Marshall Academy Patriots, in a war, beat Central Private 64-54 in Canton for their third consecutive Class AA state championship.
“A three-peat is extremely special,” Coach Dailey said. “This group embodies ‘We Believe’ about as much as any I’ve had. The heat and pressure of this season has forged one heck of a strong unit.”
That strength was never more obvious than it was when the top two teams in Class AA collided for all the marbles in a packed gym.
Dakota Dailey and Peyton Lewis were on fire. They scored 26 points each, combining for nine threes, five from Dailey and four by Lewis.
Marshall, riding its “in-your-face” defense and the hot shooting of Dailey, battled back from a seven-point deficit in the first quarter to tie the game at halftime.
The Pats went up 32-31 on Lewis’ three at the 5:37 mark of the third and never trailed again. Central Private tied it late in the third but MA went back up 45-42 on Brad Bennett’s three from the corner.
In the fourth, MA grabbed a more comfortable margin of seven. Antonio Love scored on a dazzling reverse lay-up versus Central Private big man Liam Thomas. It was 51-44 at the 4:38 mark.
Lewis nailed six free throws in the final minute to ice the title game victory.
“I never thought about this happening when I came to Marshall (in the 10th grade),” Lewis said about the three-peat. “But when we won it my sophomore year, I thought, ‘we can do this every year.’ This feeling is unreal.”
Central Private’s two stars, Simpson Anderson and Thomas, scored 18 and 17, respectively.
Marshall Academy students, standing courtside for the trophy presentation, serenaded coach Craig Dailey with “Happy Birthday to You.” He turned 43 on Saturday.
With a huge smile and his team alongside celebrating, he responded by holding up three fingers (for the three straight state titles).
It was the 12th state championship for his “We Believe” program – nine at Delta Academy and three at Marshall.
“It was my first three-peat on the boys’ side and it still felt like the very first time,” he said. “The nerves are just a lot more controlled now.”
Next up for the Patriots (34-3) is a shot at that elusive Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Overall Tournament championship. They open play at Mississippi College Wednesday at 4:15 versus Cenla Christian, the number two team from Class A.
The semi-finals and championship game follow Friday and Saturday in Clinton.
“This is possibly the strongest team to ever don ‘We Believe’ uniforms,” Coach Dailey said. “This week we get a chance to cement that into ‘We Believe’ lore.
“I hope everyone comes to see us chase the one that keeps getting away. But win or lose, gold ball or not, this bunch already has an unequaled place in our program’s history.”
The Patriots broke open a close game by outscoring Brookhaven 37-3 in the second and third quarters. They won 54-24 Friday in the state semis.
Dailey scored 20 of his game-high 24 in the first half. Devonte Smith had nine and Bennett seven.
Bowling Green hung close to the Patriots for a while Wednesday of last week in Canton before the favored squad pulled away to win 60-42.
MA led 14-8 after one quarter. When Bennett took a charge on defense and went down and drilled a three at the halftime buzzer, MA was on top 28-18.
The Pats still led by 10 after three periods.
In the fourth, they stretched the margin from the free-throw stripe. Dailey, Lewis, A. Love and Bennett all contributed.
Bennett was the top scorer for Marshall with 16. Others in double digits were Dailey, 15; Lewis, 11; and A. Love, 10.
Coach Dailey praised his top seven players – Bennett, Lewis, Dailey, Randy Love, A. Love, Smith and Vince Hoyt – for their work in the tournament.
“Brad had a defensive tournament for the ages and still contributed on the offensive end, too.
“Peyton was absolutely unguardable. Possibly nobody has performed better in their senior campaign.
“Dakota is our unquestioned floor general and was unconscious all week from the field.
“Man, what a gift I got when Randy and Antonio strolled into my office (middle of last season). They help make me a good coach.
“The sky’s the limit for Devonte. He had some huge minutes throughout the week.
“We couldn’t have done it without Vince. His grit and team-first mentality is the core of our success.”
Dailey, Bennett, Lewis and A. Love were named to the all-tournament team.
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