WC’s keep away keeps them dancing |[2/21/06]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 21, 2006

OLIVE BRANCH – Warren Central is still dancing.

And with one more win this weekend, the Lady Vikes will be waltzing all the way to the Mississippi Coliseum.

Freshman Sha’Kayla Caples scored 24 points and the Lady Vikes played a successful game of keep away in the closing minutes for a 65-60 victory over Olive Branch in the Class 5A North State satellite game. Warren Central (22-9) will now face the winner of tonight’s Starkville-Murrah playoff on Friday at 6 p.m. at Clinton High School. WC will have to win one of two games to reach the state tournament.

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&#8220We weren’t supposed to win three this year,” said WC coach Donny Fuller, who guided last year’s team to the Class 5A state semifinals. &#8220We have a great group of kids with great attitudes. We had kids sitting on the end of the bench cheering their hearts out. A lot of them haven’t gotten to play much this year, but they know it’s a team thing.”

Warren Central was expected to reach the Coliseum last year with the top six players being seniors. This group, however, is led by senior Amanda Doyle, a reserve last season, along with two juniors and a pair of freshmen.

&#8220We knew we could do it, deep down, but not many people thought we could get this far,” said junior Brittany Willis, who scored seven points and converted a pair of key fourth-quarter free throws.

Doyle poured in 12 points and freshman Karnina Bunch scored 11, but it was late in the fourth quarter when Fuller didn’t want his team to score that they were most impressive.

WC led 61-58 with 2 minutes, 48 seconds to play when the team went into a stall offense. The Lady Vikes weaved and bobbed around the offensive end for nearly two minutes before Olive Branch was able to foul. By the time WC was put into the bonus – seven team fouls on an opponent that results in a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity – the clock had been whittled down to 45 seconds.

&#8220Once they ran the clock, we let them run the clock because we were so tired,” Olive Branch coach Donnie Weeks said. &#8220It didn’t work. They made their free throws at the end and put us away.”

Willis drained two free throws to increase the lead to 63-58 before Olive Branch’s sensational junior guard Normanique Johnson converted a basket with 30 seconds to play to make it 63-60. Bunch canned a pair of free throws and the Lady Conquistadors missed an awkward, off-balance 3-pointer in the closing seconds to secure the victory for the Lady Vikes.

&#8220When that first one went through, it took all the pressure off of me. I just shot the second one because I knew we had already won the game,” Bunch said.

Delissa Scott paced Olive Branch with 20 points and hit four of the team’s nine 3-pointers. Johnson and Shakinna Brunt each had 13 points.

Brunt connected on three 3-pointers in a third quarter that saw the Lady Conquistadors take a 52-49 lead after the third quarter.

&#8220I was worried in the third quarter because both teams were hot, but it seemed like every time they would come down the floor, they would nail a three and we would hit a two so they would extend the lead every time,” Fuller said.

Now the Lady Vikes will turn their attention to a possible match with Murrah, a team they lost to in the semifinals of the Jackson Public School Tournament by double digits. Clinton will play either Greenville or Southaven in Friday’s second game. The two winners will meet on Saturday night for the top seed in the state tournament, while Friday’s two losing teams will play on Saturday with the winner advancing.

Last year, Warren Central lost to Harrison Central in the first game, then beat Hancock on the second day to reach the Coliseum.

&#8220All I know is this, there are eight teams still in the dance and we are one of the ones dancing,” Fuller said.