In the six years prior to Mark White’s arrival, the East Mississippi Community College men’s basketball program averaged six wins a season. The Lions had just six wins combined the previous two years, one in division play.
Now six seasons later, White has EMCC looking for its fourth straight region championship and fourth consecutive berth in the NJCAA national tournament. That dramatic turnaround and consistent success is The Star’s No. 2 sports story of 2012.
Heck, the Lions have even surpassed the expectations of the former Mississippi State assistant.
“Because it had been so down, and all coaches think they are good coaches and confident in their abilities, as I was,” he said as the Lions prepared in March for their third straight trip to Hutchinson, Kan., for the national tournament. “But when I got here and first looked at it, I kind of felt that if we could win 15 games a year, that would be pretty good. Just because of where the program had been. Coming from winning two games one year and four the next, if you’re winning 15 games, that’s pretty good.
“I’ve just been lucky and blessed that we’ve been able to get the program where it is. But I never could imagine that we’d be sitting here five years later and we’d be going to Hutch and the national tournament three straight years.”
But the Lions and White haven’t relied just on luck. EMCC has exerted a lot of hard work, especially on the defensive end, in turning the program around. Last season, the Lions allowed just 60 points per game in making that third straight run to nationals.
“We have built a tremendous program, both defensive and through hard work” star guard D.J. Evans, who helped steer the Lions to those past two region championships, said in March. “We’ve built a powerhouse.”
A powerhouse, especially at the right time. While the NJCAA has revamped its national tournament structure this past year to allow non-region champs for the first time, EMCC’s three straight runs came in a win-or-go-home format. All three seasons, the Lions entered the region tournament off state tournament losses that fueled the title drive.
“It comes down to knowing that it could be your last game of the year and we don’t want that happen,” Evans said at the time. “As a team, we just come together as one and do whatever it takes to get the win.”
And with it, the unexpected. But yet also expected.
“Before the season when we were practicing and seeing how hard and physical our practices were, we had a feeling we could be good enough to get back,” White said. “And then as some Division I coaches came through that had been other places, and they told us that we were right there. That our talent level was right there with anybody else.
“So we came into the year thinking we could be here.”
EMCC men win third straight region title
Slive focused on future after big changes
Mike Slive sprawls in a comfy arm chair, propping his feet on a coffee table between one massive tome on Winston Churchill and an even thicker "Encyclopedia of Southern Culture."
He's relaxed and feeling awfully good about the state of the Southeastern Conference.
It's a rare moment of calm for the SEC's cerebral commissioner, but he can afford it since his "A pile" of things to do has gotten considerably slimmer over the past two years.
’Bama bounces Ole Miss from SEC Tourney
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Tanner Bailey (4-2) suffered the loss for the Rebels, allowing two runs on one hit with two walks in 2.1 innings of work.
Roy shows big-league talent in win
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Cougars fall in Game 1
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Bulldogs win again, beat S. Carolina in SEC Tournament
Demarcus Henderson and Wes Rea both had RBI singles in the ninth inning to lift Mississippi State to a 5-3 win over South Carolina Wednesday night in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The Bulldogs (42-16) loaded the bases with one out before Henderson and Rea drove in runs on consecutive at-bats for the second time in the game.
Mississippi State had beaten Missouri 2-1 in 17 innings Tuesday night, matching the longest game in SEC tournament history.
Reliever Myles Gentry (4-0) limited the Gamecocks (39-17) to a one-out single in the bottom of the ninth.
Gentry pitched 5-2/3 scoreless innings, allowing three hits while striking out eight.
Rea was 3 for 4 while Henderson drove in three runs.
Mississippi State led 3-0 before South Carolina tied it up in the fourth.
Max Schrock drew a bases loaded walk and Brison Celek followed with a two-run single.
Hogs top Ole Miss in SEC Tournament
For the second time this season the Rebels played an extra-inning affair with the Razorbacks, but with a different outcome as No. 21 Ole Miss (37-21) fell to No. 15 Arkansas (36-19) 2-1 in 10 innings on Wednesday.
Fundamentals leading Newton County to Jackson
In 2006, Newton County baseball won the 3A state title. Since then, they've moved up a class but haven't had much luck – until now.
Roy takes over as football head coach at Clarkdale
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Bennett stays on as softball coach at Clarkdale
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Titles nothing new for Newton County
Newton County captured its seventh fast-pitch state championship, outscoring defending champion Houston 26-3 in two games. The Cougars took home the title despite not having a single senior on their roster –– still, few were surprised.
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