When the championship is on the line, the margin of victory is irrelevant. A point victory is just as sweet as a blowout. Ask the Lester Lions about that.
by Andre Mitchell
Special to the Tri-State Defender
When the championship is on the line, the margin of victory is irrelevant. A point victory is just as sweet as a blowout.
Ask the Lester Lions about that. They captured the small division West Tennessee Sectional Championship by the slimmest of margins – 58 to 57 – over Fayette East.
| The Lester Middle School Lions earned their sectional championship with a herculean comeback. (Courtesy photos)|
Like last season, the Lions roared loudly and are repeat city champs, however, this season proved to be the breakthrough in more ways than one.
Lester’s rooster included: Kobe Freeman, Alex Lomax, Nick Merriweather, Courtney Mclemore, Demarcus Martin, Derrick Carnes, George Bee, Andrew Murphy, Albert Zleh, Robert Washington, Xavion Young and sectional tourney MVP, Reginald Green.
As “the team to beat” all season long, composure was a must and the Lester boys got the job done.
For most of the championship game, Lester was on the short end of the score, finally taking the lead with less than a minute to go. Down by as much as 16 points in the second half, the Lions continued to scrap and rallied from a 47-35 deficit with 5:17 left to play. Then, with less than three minutes to go, Lester’s Merriweather and Freeman went to work, hitting a flurry of deep trey balls, pulling the game within reach (49-46).
With 25.7 seconds remaining, Green gave Lester its’ first lead and moments later Washington sealed the deal with a put back after a missed free throw. A stunned Fayette East, down by three, would score a two-point bucket with time running; Lester stood tall as the clock elapsed and the final buzzer sounded.
“What more could you ask for? Over the past two seasons, we have won two city championships, a state championship and to top it off, I’m getting knowledge, wisdom and support from one of the greatest players in Memphis basketball history in Penny ‘Coach Carter’ Hardaway,” said Merriweather.
“Man, it’s simply amazing what God can do for you! For me, to have the personal success I have had and to see it can be taken away in a heartbeat, it helps you to put things in proper perspective. My wife, Inga, my mothers, Nadolyn Smith & Cassie Foster, along with my daughter, Zion, son Nick, my brother, Marty and my pastor, Rev. Larry Peoples, continue to lift me up in strength and prayer,” said Merriweather.
“Needless to say, Ia received so much love and encouragement from my Lester family, especially from the boy’s, to the entire school and community. It’s been a pure blessing!”
Merriweather associates his team’s success with his strong faith in God, setting solid personal goals and working hard to achieve their goals through education.
“The main thing I try to tell the boy’s is they need to try to be the best they can be in life and not to let the negative things around them influence them to not try or fail,” said Merriweather.
“I tell them of the great legacy of good folks that have come from Binghampton. There’s a lot of good tradition here, but we have to work tell the positive stories.”
Coach “Penny” Hardaway knew some time ago that he wanted to grace the sidelines as a coach, but wasn’t sure when and where it would be.
“Naturally, I considered coaching at the University of Memphis, but I felt I wanted to prepare and approach it from a more basic standpoint. I thought of stepping in at the high school level, and then this situation fell into my lap and it was a no-brainer.”
One of the things that got Hardaway’s attention early on was how much he truly enjoyed working with Merriweather and the young Lions.
“The most challenging thing for me was to get them to trust in what we were trying to tell them. After a while, they began to see that we were here for them to be the best they could be and that’s all,” he said.
“Once they bought into what we were teaching, they began to excel,” said Hardaway, quickly pointing out that the guys have to focus on being more discipline in everything they do, as well as stay healthy and out of trouble.
Keep your faith in God and never give up on yourself or your dreams, are lessons that Hardaway stressed.
“This season was so full of distractions and small set backs, but Coach Merriweather and I kept telling the guys to stick with it and don’t give! It paid off big time in the sectional championship game. I figured we had a chance to win it, even though the game looked bleak going into the final period.”
Hardaway said the last quarter played out just about as he envisioned it would.
“It was closer than I would have liked, but the victory was one of the sweetest I have ever experienced.”
And for Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, that’s saying a lot!