Monday afternoon, Myrtle head coach Jonathan Ashley was on the phone, working on his schedule for next season. This time last year, he did the same thing, planning several tough opponents in a row to prepare his team for the playoffs.
The difficult scheduling paid off this year, as the Hawks had a remarkable turnaround from their fourth place Division Tournament finish to winning their fourth straight North Half Championship last Saturday in Okolona.
“Looking down the road after we returned from Christmas, we played at Baldwyn, at New Albany and Belmont at Hickory Flat, those three games in a week,” he said. “We did that with the intent of playing three difficult games in three nights, and that would help us for North Half Tournament. We took three in the chin then, but I think that helped us get ready for what we endured for three nights at Okolona.”
What the Hawks did was win three games by less than 10 points, including a last second shot by Russ Yates against H.W. Byers to send Myrtle on a return trip to Jackson.
In three games, the senior averaged 19 points, while Robert Montgomery, the team’s leading scorer, averaged 23.7. The duo carried the load, leading Myrtle to now their fifth straight State Tournament appearance.
The Hawks also took down three of the four division champions in the north, starting with Biggersville last Tuesday to make it to the North Half Tournament.
What Myrtle has accomplished in the past week has left many amazed, and Ashley noted the biggest difference he saw in his team after they fell in the Division Consolation game on Feb. 19.
“The effort level increased drastically,” he said. “We just made some shots. We didn’t shoot it very well during the division tournament week, and we shot it real well at certain times, but we shot it well enough to find a way to win.”
Ashley hopes the good fortune will continue, as they Hawks will next play Dexter in the 1A State Semifinal on Friday.
“We’ll need a lot more luck,” he laughed. “We’ve played well enough and have had enough luck, so we’re going to see if we can get by Dexter.”