Tide one win from title

Published 5:45 pm Thursday, March 6, 2008

A pair of very experienced teams will battle for the Class 4A state basketball championship on Friday night.

Both Picayune and New Hope are similar in that department as well as several others.

The Maroon Tide and the Trojans start five seniors each and each of the team’s top two players off the bench are in their final year of eligibility as well.

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Picayune is the South State champions and New Hope captured the North State title.

Both were ranked high in preseason polls as well, with the Trojans rated as the top team in the state before the year began and the Maroon Tide picked eighth.

The teams clash at 8:30 Friday night in the Big House, the Mississippi Coliseum in this state capital.

Picayune is 33-4 and New Hope is 28-8, but the Trojans beat the Maroon Tide by 19 points last month.

“You can’t pay attention to what happened then, because this is a whole new ball game,” New Hope head coach Robert Byrd said, after his team beat Ridgeland in Tuesday’s state semifinals. “We were off the night before, but they had to play a tough game and then get up early to play us. They’ve got a great program.”

Neither team has ever won a state championship in basketball.

Picayune is led by leading scorers Brandon Fortenberry and Chris Dees, while New Hope was the only team in the state to have a pair of Dandy Dozen selections in center Rashanti Harris and guard Dale Hughes.

New Hope is making its second straight appearance in the state title game, after losing to Jackson Lanier last year.

Picayune last played for the title in 2002.

Friday’s game will be televised on Mississippi PBS stations.