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Lady Vikes close in on Big House

Warren Central’s Cookie Johnson (32) is hammered by Ocean Springs’ Renea Lewis during the Lady Vikes’ 46-32 win on Monday night. The victory sends Warren Central to the South State Tournament, where they will meet Gulfport on Friday at 6 p.m. at Hancock High School. (Jenny SevcikThe Vicksburg Post)

[2/24/04]Warren Central’s tenacious in-your-face, man-to-man defense has the Lady Vikes within one win of a trip to the Big House.

WC (22-8) survived a second-straight stagnate shooting night with a dominating defensive performance to overpower Ocean Springs, 46-32, in the South State satellite game on Monday.

The victory sends the Lady Vikes to the South State Tournament beginning on Friday. The top three teams in the four-team tournament advance to the state tournament in Jackson.

“Coach (Donny) Fuller always tells us that defense wins championships and offense sells tickets,” said WC junior Cookie Johnson, who led all scorers with 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. “When we play defense really well, the offense will come.”

The Lady Vikes forced 25 turnovers, held Ocean Springs without a point over a seven-minute stretch in the second half and allowed only 12 points in the first half.

“After looking at the tape, I thought they could be pressured,” said Fuller, who will be making his first trip to the South State Tournament since 1995. “I told our kids that we won the last three basketball games not on the offensive end, but the defensive end. That’s the one thing you can control how hard you play defense.”

Marianne Smith led the Lady Hounds (17-16) with 11 points and Kiara Slaton added seven. But for the better part of the night, points were few and far between.

WC led 19-12 at halftime and quickly extended the lead to double figures early in the third quarter. An Ocean Springs basket with a minute to play in the third quarter was the last points the Lady Hounds scored until a Smith basket with 1 minute, 59 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. By that time, WC held a commanding 45-24 lead.

“They kind of wore us down there in the second half,” Ocean Springs coach Tim Bryant said. “We have a real young team and most of the night we had a freshman, three sophomores and a junior on the floor.

“This team has exceeded their expectations. To win 17 games and make the playoffs with this young a squad is a credit to them.”

Ocean Springs cut the lead to 12 points in the closing minutes, but both teams had already begun to substitute liberally.

Tranyce Peoples scored eight points in the victory and Brittany Banks came off the bench to score six all in the second half.

The Lady Vikes shot 6-for-32 in the first half, but Ocean Springs could not capitalize. The Lady Hounds hit only four shots in 20 attempts.

“We wanted to extend the zone because we have the big girl inside and we can do that some,” Bryant said.

“They did not score an inside point in the first half.”

Warren Central will face Gulfport in the first round of South State at 6 p.m. on Friday. With a win, the Lady Vikes will automatically earn a trip to Jackson and will play for the South State championship on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

“We’re at the end of the line,” said Peoples, a senior. “We’re playing like we don’t have any more games to play. We’re just running off of energy right now; everything we have.”