The Beehive at Starkville High School was full of emotions and excitement Saturday night as it honored the seniors.
Tipping off against Canton, the Yellowjackets ended the home season with a 63-47 victory.
“That’s the best we’ve played all year,” SHS boys coach Greg Carter said. “I’m proud of the way they played (Saturday night). We defended all night. We rebounded all night. We talked about it being a group effort all year. (Saturday) it paid off.”
Things began paying off for the Jackets from the very beginning as Raphael Leonard scored the first eight points. Leonard’s SHS teammates joined in the action as the team carried a 17-11 lead into the second period.
The Jackets took flight during the second period as they engaged on a 16-0 run. Senior Ravonte' Gandy opened the run with a pair of free throws, followed by a shot from the behind the arc to put SHS up 27-15.
Fellow senior Avonte' Amos contributed a 3-pointer of his own during the run before Gandy then closed the scoring streak with another 3-pointer to give the Yellowjackets a 38-17 lead with 1:19 left to play in the half.
SHS tacked on two more points as it outscored the Tigers 24-7 to end the half leading 41-18.
“Gandy didn’t start, but when he came in, he made an immediate impact,” Carter said. “He was always in the right place defensively, then you had Amos who was on the boards all night. Both of them played really well.”
Offensively, things were a little closer during the third period.
Scoring was back and forth with the Yellowjackets posting 13 points, while Canton scored 18 as the period ended with SHS leading 54-36.
Canton managed to cut the lead to 13 during the final period. the Jackets answered with a 9-2 run highlighted by Zeb Rice’s 3-pointer from the right corner to push the lead to 20 placing the game out of reach with 2:50 left to play.
Starkville spent the remainder of the game playing keep away to preserve the senior night victory.
Richard Evans was the leading Yellowjacket with 20 points, followed by Gandy and Leonard with 17 and 13 points, respectively.
Following the game, Carter spoke on how emotional senior night was and on the possibility of facing the Tigers during the postseason.
“It was a little emotional early on, but once we got past playing on emotion, I thought we played really well,” Carter said. “We will probably by playing Canton again in the district tournament so it gives us a lot of confidence going forward.”
Emotions were also running high for the Lady Jackets, who honored a pair of seniors in their contest with Canton.
Tipping off with one of the top teams in the state, SHS coach Kristie Williams knew her team was in for a battle. It would ultimately prove too much for the Lady Jackets.
“It was an emotional night from the start,” Williams said. “We anticipated it was going to be a battle. Canton is a really challenging team. They are a top 10 team in the state so we knew coming in, we had to be on all cylinders mentally and physically.
“There were spurts in the game where you could tell we were trying to rush things or we were trying to force the game instead of letting it to come to us. Unfortunately, those spurts gave Canton the momentum, but I know that if we can just regroup bigger things will happen for us down the stretch.”
From the moment the ball was tipped, it was clear that Williams was right as the two teams battled through the first 8 minutes of competition. Following the first period buzzer, SHS trailed its Lady Tigers opponent 18-13.
The second period contest faired very similar to the first as the two teams were once again within single digits of one another. The Lady Jackets once again scored 13 points, but were bested by Canton, which posted 15 to carry a 33-26 lead at halftime.
Coming out of the break, the Lady Jackets were not able to get their offense off the ground as they only scored one basket during the third period. Canton tacked on 17 points to advance its lead to 50-29.
SHS got things back on track during the final period as it doubled up its opponent in the scoring category. The Lady Jackets efforts were not enough as they fell to Canton 58-45.
Of the 45 points scored by SHS, 25 came from Blair Schaefer while Andreal Fleming led the Lady Tigers winning efforts with 17 points.
Seniors Kasey Jett and Kelsye Reed combined for seven points as they concluded their time on the home court.
“The seniors were emotional on the floor and it is always that way on senior night,” Williams said. “I am really proud of my seniors. They have been with me. I have seen them develop through junior high until now and they have matured a lot.”
With Canton behind it, SHS can now prepare for a Tuesday evening contest against Madison Central followed by a Friday night showdown with the Aberdeen Bulldogs.