GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Last season, Gulfport's bid for their first state championship since 1985 came up one game short, falling 3-0 in their rubber match to Tupelo. But even in defeat, the Admirals found a purpose, a mission statement from their head coach.
"The amount of growth we've had, I think it's a credit to those guys and the juniors to keep us at this level now," Jamie McMahon told reporters after that game. "We should be in a chance to play for this or the South State every year. That's what we want."
Now, nearly one year later, the Admirals seem well on their way to doing so. Storming out to a 16-2 start in 2018, Gulfport appears to once again be a favorite to be one of the two teams representing Class 6A at Trustmark Park this May.
"We've got a bunch of great leaders on the team," Admirals senior Patrick Nelms said. "(We have) a bunch of returning starters, and even the younger kids, they got experience. We're all coming together and it's gonna be a good thing."
"It helps them a little bit, but it's still a different team," McMahon said. "Same guys, but different team, so we still go day to day."
Led by a standout group of upperclassmen including Nelms, Dylan Ladner, Gabe Lacy and Tulane signee Blake Johnson, MaxPreps currently pegs the Admirals as the second-ranked team in Mississippi.
"Offensively, we're not putting up crazy numbers yet," Johnson said. "We still haven't quite clicked. I mean, we're starting to go, but it's still not 100 percent. But defensively, we're keeping ourselves in the ball game and then we're finding ways to win. It's worked so far, but we're still improving."
This may be a different team than what we saw in 2017, but the Admirals are using the lessons from last year, hoping to finish this season with a happier ending.
"Just to get there, we don't want to have to feel that feeling again," Johnson said. "(The championship game loss last year) is a pretty big part, we talk about it a lot."
The Admirals look to keep things rolling as they host arch-rival Biloxi Friday night at the Herb.