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Gators blow fourth-quarter lead, fall to Natchez

[12/10/03]NATCHEZ There’s always reason to celebrate a first.

This time, however, the first brings another meaning for Natchez High’s boys. A come-from-behind 45-41 win over Vicksburg marked a new beginning of sorts for a budding Bulldogs team by downing the defending state champion Gators to open Division 6-5A play on Tuesday.

“It’s a real big win going into district play,” Natchez guard DaMorris Merrick said. “Last year we didn’t have but one, but now we got our first district win this year. We’re all still meshing and trying to get as one team and one heartbeat.”

The Bulldogs turned a 12-point deficit on its ear in the fourth quarter thanks to a 13-2 run in the final quarter.

“They were one of the best teams we’ve played,” sophomore Jeremy Houston said. “They’re the defending state champs. I’ve been playing a good bit since the start of the season since the Wilkinson County game (Nov. 13).

It took me a while to get a feel, but it’s been comfortable. Just trying to take good shots. Coach told me not to force it.”

The Bulldogs (4-5, 1-0) got a push from sophomore Jeremy Houston in the third quarter as he scored nine of his points. The Bulldogs were able to cut the lead to 39-32 heading into the fourth quarter before picking it up at the start.

Two straight baskets from Michael Chatman came on the heels of a huge 3-pointer from Jeffery Thomas with 6:18 left to tie the game up at 39-39.

“That’s been our Achilles heel all year long,” Vicksburg coach Dellie Robinson said. “We didn’t execute coming down the stretch. We turned the ball over. We lost an 18-point lead to Warren Central, and we had a 14-point lead on Forest Hill. Just going down the stretch we can’t get it done.”

The Gators (5-6, 0-1) answered with a bucket from Sedrick Williams who burned the Bulldogs with three 3-pointers in the second quarter to take a two-point lead, but a bucket from Charles Cothern inside tied it back up with 4:16 left.

Then on a missed Vicksburg shot the Bulldogs got the rebound and threw it to a streaking Merrick down the floor, who tossed in a layup with 2:54 left for a 43-41 lead.

If that wasn’t enough, on the Gators’ next possession Williams was called for a five-second violation. The Bulldogs slowed it down on their next possession and took a minute off the clock before Greg Purnell scored with 1:35 left for the 45-41 lead.

“Coach told us to come out with more energy,” Merrick said. “It was a big difference (from the first half). At first we were kind of sluggish, and at halftime we picked up the intensity. When we picked up the intensity, we took the lead. We had to get something to stop them, and Tryon stepped up the defense.”

Williams finished with 17 points for Vicksburg, tying with Houston for the game high.

(G) VHS 38, Natchez 34

Through the back-and-forth nature of this contest, there may be one thing both sides can agree on division play came way too early.

Neither side could really say they played well, but fortunately for the Missy Gators they withstood some pressure in the second half and held on for the win. The Lady Bulldogs (2-5, 0-1) cut the lead to one heading into the fourth quarter but couldn’t get over the hump.

“They made a good run at us,” Vicksburg (9-3) coach Mike Coleman said.

“Natchez has a good, quick young team. I feel like we’re starting turning it over because we’re a little young, too. We’re playing a lot of sophomores.

“We got lucky and won it. It wasn’t anything we did, I don’t think. It was a helter-skelter game the whole night.”