Natchez rides emotions into WC

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Warren Central’s Cookie Johnson (32) tries to draw a foul from Murrah’s Shaneqa Jones, left, during a Lady Vikes’ loss one week ago. Johnson and top-seeded Warren Central will battle today at 7 p.m. (Melanie Duncan ThortisThe Vicksburg Post)

[2/17/04]As Natchez High prepares for their Division 6-5A Tournament opener against Warren Central, emotions will be riding high.

Mary Irving, the Lady Bulldogs’ longtime coach and the first black woman to be inducted into the Mississippi Coaches Hall of Fame, lost her battle with cancer less than two weeks ago. Her team has dedicated the rest of the season to her, and will attempt to keep that season alive tonight at 7 against top-seeded Warren Central in the opening round of the division tournament at WC.

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“Mary Irving was a fantastic lady and a class act,” said WC coach Donny Fuller, who coached against Irving as division rivals the last three seasons. “She was a highly successful coach down there, and they have basically dedicated the rest of the season to her.”

Irving won 640 games in her 33-year coaching career that included stints in both Mississippi and Louisiana.

Assistant coach Steve McClatchy has acted as head coach since Irving’s death, and will coach the team tonight.

“It’s nothing you can really prepare for,” Fuller said. “We have to come out and play our game and hopefully try to take them out of some things because they will be playing with a lot of emotion.”

Warren Central’s matchup with Natchez is the third in a four-game afternoon starting at 4 with the Vicksburg High girls against Forest Hill.

That game will be followed by Forest Hill’s boys against Natchez at 5:30. WC’s boys will tangle with Vicksburg at 8:30.

The winners of tonight’s games will meet for division titles on Friday, while the losers’ seasons will come to an end.

“We know Natchez is going to come out hard and ready to play,” WC’s Ebon Williams said. “We have to come out harder and play stronger than they do.”

Natchez enters the game as the division’s fourth seed, but Fuller is quick to point out that two of those wins came against Forest Hill and his Lady Vikes.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well down there and we turned the ball over too much,” Fuller said. “I looked and we were 20-of-69 from the floor and you’re not going to beat anyone that way.”

The Vicksburg Missy Gators will be looking to make it out of the division for the first time in coach Mike Coleman’s five seasons at VHS. His team lost twice to Forest Hill earlier this season.

The Gators, meanwhile, carry the No. 2 seed into their matchup with Warren Central. The Gators beat WC two of three times this season, including both division matchups.

The Gators are the defending Class 5A champions, while Warren Central reached the playoffs last season. The winners of tonight’s games will play next Tuesday in the South State satellite game.

“I think it is very important for us to come out strong early, get our fans in the game and get Natchez out of theirs,” Fuller said.