Meigs County's Derek Letner, left center, celebrates the Tigers victory in the stands during the TSSAA Class A semifinals of the BlueCross Basketball Championships at the Murphy Center on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Friday.
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — As his school's career scoring leader, Levi Woods understands the importance of an assist. That's why, seconds after leading Meigs County to a 57-48 victory over Booker T. Washington in the Class A state tournament semifinals Friday, the team's lone senior sprinted the length of the court to salute the Tigers' fans.
"I just wanted them to know how much we appreciated them coming here to support us," Woods said. "They gave us a lot of energy and picked us up when we needed it all game long."
The win propelled Meigs County into today's state championship game at Middle Tennessee State University's Murphy Center, where it will play Memphis Mitchell at 5 p.m. EDT.
"This is something I've always dreamed about but never believed would come true," Woods added. "It's an unbelievable feeling and I can't wait to play again tomorrow. We've got one more game to play, with everything to play for."
It's the first trip to the title game for Meigs County (32-4) since 1980. The Decatur school's boys' program has never won a state title, having finished runner-up in 1980 and 1959.
Booker T. Washington had thrived off its up-tempo, pressing style all season, scoring 80-plus points 13 times. But by the second quarter, it was apparent that Meigs County was not bothered at all by BTW's full-court press.
Even as the Tigers fell behind by seven points midway through the first quarter, it wasn't so much yielding to the pressure as missing open shots. They closed that opening quarter on a 7-2 run and never trailed by more than four the rest of the first half as the game settled into a back-and-forth affair.
"Who would've thought that little ol' Meigs County could take a Memphis team out of its press?" Tigers coach Sammy Perkinson said afterward. "I told the guys when that happened, that we wouldn't see it again until late in the game when we were already ahead and they were scrambling. I was that confident that we were about to take control.
"I think they were surprised that we liked that fast tempo. The didn't really attack us after that, and to be honest, I thought they got tired."
There were four lead changes in the third quarter and three ties in the fourth before Meigs took the lead for good by scoring on three consecutive possessions early in the final quarter. The Tigers were helped along by having gotten BTW's two post players into foul trouble in the second half, allowing Woods to get into a scoring groove.
By the midpoint of the fourth it was clear that the Warriors did not have an answer for the Mr. Basketball finalist, as he scored 14 of his game-high 30 points down the stretch and also grabbed 15 rebounds for his second double-double of the state tournament.
With Meigs County clinging to a 49-47 lead, Woods pulled up for a 3-pointer, only his second of the game, with 1:25 remaining. As the ball dropped cleanly through the net for a five-point cushion, the Tigers' fans on that end of the court began to sense they were in command. Meigs held BTW without a field goal for the final 90 seconds.
"When Levi shot that 3, it was one of those, 'No, no ... yes!' moments," Perkinson said. "He did so much for us today. From taking it at their big guys and getting them in foul trouble, to grabbing a bunch of rebounds to make sure they didn't get second-chance points. And down the stretch, I told our assistant coaches that we were just going to ride Levi to the promised land.
"He's gotten us this far, I was going to let him take over. And he did."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...