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By DANNY P. SMITH
Round three between the Starkville Yellowjackets and Tupelo Golden Wave on Friday night was just as tough of a battle on the basketball court as the previous two meetings during the regular season.
After losing 58-56 and 73-72 decisions to Tupelo during the regular season in Class 6A, Region 2 play, Starkville had to go into the latest meeting without post player Gavin Ware and guard Jacolby Mobley
Ware had to sit out with a bruised knee, while Mobley suffered bruise ribs during Tuesday's victory against Columbus.
The other available Jackets put forth their best sting, but it wasn't potent enough as they were beaten by the Golden Wave 67-64.
Starkville coach Greg Carter knew the possibility was very strong that Ware and Mobley wouldn't be able to play.
Instead of worrying about who wasn't there, Carter said the Jackets were committed to giving their best effort possible.
"We haven't even talked about being short-handed," Carter said. "That's something we didn't address. One thing this team understands is whatever cards we're dealt, we've got to play them. Whether that be injuries, playing on the road, or adverse circumstances, you've still got to play.
"We've been knowing that since Tuesday night that there was a chance they wouldn't play, but we've still got to come out and play in a championship game. I'm proud of the fact they didn't use that we were a little short-handed as an excuse. We fought and did everything we could to pull out a win, we just came up short in a couple of areas."
Carter pointed to the specific areas of not finishing shots around basket and missing too many free throws as what hurt Starkville the most.
The Jackets were 15-of-26 from the free-throw line.
"In the championship game, the adrenaline was pumping and maybe you start breathing a little harder than you normally do, but we've still got to be able to step up to the line and knock those free throws down," Carter said. "We left some points out there and we understand that. We know in order to win and keep moving on, we've got to finish around the basket a little better and make free throws. Those were the two biggest areas.
"We need to improve in those two areas. They have been thorns in our side all year. They don't flare up every game, but they do flare up some games."
Starkville, which saw its record slip to 17-7, will travel to the division winner between DeSoto Central and Southaven on Tuesday night.
Tupelo had a difficult time putting away the Jackets during the game with leads of only 13-10 after the first quarter, 29-26 at halftime and 46-42 at the end of the third quarter.
The Golden Wave came out to take a 6-0 advantage in the first quarter, but that was their biggest lead of the first half.
In the second half, Starkville took leads of 34-33 on a basket by Tory Rice with 5:22 remaining in the third quarter and 42-41 on a dunk by Stanley Childs with 1:32 left in the third.
Tupelo was able to get the advantage back by the end of the quarter and a free throw by Dajon Reno helped the Golden Wave match their longest lead of the game of eight points at 64-56 with 17.5 seconds remaining.
Back-to-back 3-point shots by Calvin Young and Steven Brand in the final 10 seconds of the game for the Jackets helped bring the final margin to three points.
"I was proud of the effort and the way they laid it on the line," Carter said of his squad. "They put it all out there. When you play that hard, you are going to make some mistakes along the way, but you can't fault the effort. We came up short, but it wasn't due to a lack of effort.
"We fought hard to get to the basket and get some of those offensive rebounds. The cherry on top is finishing those plays."
Steven Brand led Starkville with 16 points, while his brother Mike Brand added 14 points and Childs chipped in 12 points.
"Stanley came in and brought a lot of energy," Carter said. "He played really hard."