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Picayune in state finals

One step is all that is left on a journey that has been many years in the making.

For just the third time in school history, Picayune will be playing for the state basketball championship on Friday, and the Maroon Tide can earn the first ever state title on the hardwood for the school in the process.

Picayune dispatched Moss Point in the Class 4A state semifinals Monday night in the Mississippi Coliseum, capturing a 57-48 decision before about 1,500 fans.

The Maroon Tide will now face the survivor of today’s other semifinal between heavily favored New Hope and Ridgeland on Friday night at 8:30 in the Big House for the state title.

“I don’t know how to explain the feeling, just how it feels to be playing for the championship,” Picayune senior standout Chris Dees said. “As long as we play as one unit, the way we have been, we have a chance against anybody.”

Dees, along with senior stalwart Brandon Fortenberry, proved to be a one-two punch that the Tigers never could recover from in the game. Dees set the tone for the Tide early with 10 first half points, and finished with 15 points and six rebounds while Fortenberry took over late and ended up with 18 points and 11 rebounds in the win.

“He took control early and gave us a lift and then at halftime he told me it was time for me to help him out,” Fortenberry said, of his teammate. “We always feed off of one another as well as we do off everybody else on the team. That’s the difference this year, we are playing as a team.”

The Maroon Tide, now 33-4 overall, snapped a five game losing streak in the Big House and will play for the state title for the first time since 2002. The only other time Picayune played in the finals was in the late 1960’s.

“They were the better team in every phase,” Moss Point head coach Dale Brown, whose team finishes the year at 32-6, said. “They made us work for absolutely everything we could get and that wasn’t much. They are very well coached, and he (Fortenberry) is the best point guard I have seen this year. We didn’t have an answer for anything they did.”

Dees scored the first two baskets of the game, and even though the game was tight throughout the Maroon Tide would trail just once, at 17-16, early in the second period.

Fortenberry hit back to back baskets late in that stanza, and the Tide went on to take a 26-18 lead at halftime on a late lay-up by Reshun Smith.

“We have seven seniors and just about all of them played a major role for us last year, so I think our experience of having been here last year made a difference,” Picayune second year head coach Daniel Kennedy said. “We talked in the locker room before the game about the fact that we deserved to be here with these other teams, but we had to go out and prove it.”

And that’s exactly what the Tide did in the second half.

Fortenberry’s lay-up early in the third frame made it 28-18, before the Tigers came storming back. Moss Point cut the deficit to just four, at 36-32, entering the fourth period.

But Picayune went on a 15-6 run in the first five minutes of the last stanza to take control. Dees had a key basket on an assist from Smith to make it 47-38, just after David McClain’s second 3-pointer of the game extended Picayune’s lead.

Fortenberry’s acrobatic tip-in with just three minutes to play made the count 51-38 and sealed the win.