The last time Gulfport High School captured a state championship title in basketball was back in 2002, when Admirals athletic director Bryan Caldwell was the head coach.
On Wednesday night, Madison Central, which was a 54-50 winner over Gulfport in December, jumped out to a 21-16 lead at halftime and 28-18 in the third quarter. It looked as if the Jaguars were going to run away with the victory.
However, junior guard Jahshire Hardnett kept the Admirals in the game all night long before finishing with 16 points. His basketball skills were on full display before the fans in Jackson's Mississippi Coliseum.
In the fourth quarter, senior guard Dimi Cook, who transfered from Pass Christian before the season, connected on a jumper for two of his 12 points to give the Admirals a 34-33 advantage -- their first lead of the game since early in the first quarter.
With time winding down, Hardnett exploded inside the paint, converted a tough bucket and was fouled for a three-point play. Gulfport led 37-33.
With most of the coliseum already heading for the exits, Cook sent a perfect pass to Derrick Anderson, who sent down an emphatic dunk to remind the Gulfport fans that their team was getting past the 6A semifinals for the first time in the past three years.
Madison Central drilled a three-point shot as time expired to close the gap to a 44-40 margin, but it was too little, too late.
The Admirals will face the Grenada Chargers at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson for the 6A championship Sat., March 16, at 8 p.m.
"It was a terrible start," head coach Owen Miller said. "Dimitri Cook gets two fouls. Derrick Anderson gets two fouls and we just hung in there. We've done that all year. We're undersized but we play together and we've got a bunch of character. You can't judge what's inside their kids' chest and they showed it tonight."
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