Gators, Indians set for showdown|[2/25/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 25, 2005

Dellie C. Robinson stood in the hallway outside the Vicksburg High gym Tuesday night, listening to a Hattiesburg assistant point out his team’s weaknesses.

Robinson’s Gators had just dispatched Hattiesburg in the Class 5A South State satellite game, and he was in too good a mood to focus on the negative. He simply laughed, shrugged off the suggestions, and said, “They said the same thing two years ago.”

Indeed, Vicksburg is looking more and more like the group of Gators who won a state championship in 2003. Like their predecessors, this team has no true post players and gets by with a total team effort instead of relying on one superstar.

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And with each passing day they start to believe that maybe, just maybe, there’s something special happening here.

“I think this team is a team of destiny. You’ve got to look at the boys who were on that state championship team,” Robinson said, referring to seniors Sederick Williams, Johnny Markham, Fred Thomas and Edwin Gaskin. “They’ve been there before. Maybe not as a player, but they’ve certainly been on the sideline watching. So they’ve got confidence, and they believe.”

The Gators (17-16) will take the next step in their strange journey tonight at 8 when they face host Biloxi in the South State tournament. It will be the first road trip of the postseason for Vicksburg, which won the Division 6-5A Tournament title and the satellite game on its home floor.

A more immediate – and, literally, bigger – concern than playing on the road is the teams Vicksburg will have to go through to reach the Class 5A state tournament.

The other three teams at South State – Biloxi, Moss Point and Picayune – all have a big size advantage over the Gators. Vicksburg has relied on hustle and hard work to get rebounds, but might find it tough to make it through the bigger bodies of this next set of opponents.

“It’s going to be a big challenge, because we’re short. But there’s no challenge we can’t overcome,” Williams said.

The Gators also need to find an answer to their woes at the free throw line. They’re getting there, but not making the most of their opportunities.

During the current four-game winning streak, Vicksburg has shot an astounding 129 free throws, but hit only 74 of them for a 57.3 percentage. In Tuesday’s 70-61 win over Hattiesburg, VHS was 12-for-22 from the stripe.

“Take our time,” Williams said when asked for a solution. “A free throw is nothing but a free shot. When we need them, we’re going to nail them.”

Which is another trait this VHS team shares with its state championship predecessors. These Gators seem to come up big when it counts.

Before New Year’s, they played 11 games decided by seven points or less. After winning only once in January, they’ve gone 5-1 this month and are starting to visualize a third state title banner hanging in their gym.

“We’re Cinderella. It ain’t midnight yet,” Robinson said. “As long as it’s not midnight, we’ve got a chance.”