By JOEL McNEECE
Piney Woods used a 24-0 first half run to break open a 9-8 game en route to defeating Calhoun City 78-61 in the Class 2A Semifinals at the Mississippi Coliseum.
The Wildcats, 23-12, battled all game long, once pulling to within nine points in the second half, but could never draw closer.
"We just couldn't get over that hump," Coach Darren Coffey said. "Every time we got close we would have turnovers, or something. We just couldn't get it done tonight."
Piney Woods' guard Xavian Rimmer, a Tennessee-Chattanooga signee, scored a game-high 23 points, many of them coming during the big first half run that blew the game open.
"He's an outstanding player," Coffey said. "They have a great team. Possibly the best in the state, regardless of classification."
Seniors J.R. Jennings and Tavion Primer led the Wildcats with 18 and 16 points respectively.
"They played extremely hard," Coffey said. "All these seniors are the best group of kids you could ever want to coach. They're one of those groups you wish you could coach forever."
The Wildcats trailed 39-22 at the half, but picked up their defensive intensity in the second half and showed signs of getting back into the game.
"We talked at the half about playing with heart and pride," Coffey said. "I thought we did that. We just couldn't get over that 9-point hump."
The Wildcats got as close as 54-45 with less than a minute left in the third and closed to within nine a few more times in the fourth period, but couldn't draw closer.
Tabarrius Coffey, for the first time this year outsized by the 6'10 and 6'7 players on Piney Woods front line, scored 14 for 'City. Demarius Howard added nine and Traveous Moore four.
"I'm so proud of this team. We got of to a 3-6 start to the season, faced some adversity and just battled," Coffey said. "They showed the heart and pride our Calhoun City teams have. It's just tough when it ends here. It's a bitter taste."
Piney Woods, 28-3, will play Friday, March 4 at 2:30 p.m. in the 2A championship game against Bruce. The Tornadoes are going for their first state championship since winning three in a row from 1994-96.