Gators move on with heads high

Published 11:45 am Monday, March 7, 2011

JACKSON — Though they came up short in the Class 6A championship game Saturday night against Meridian, the 2010-11 Vicksburg Gators will always have a special place in coach Dellie C. Robinson’s heart.

Meridian’s 62-47 win in front of 4,500 fans at the Mississippi Coliseum and a statewide television audience on Mississippi Public Broadcasting ended Vicksburg’s season with a 27-4 record. Along the way, the Gators collected the Division 4-6A regular season and tournament titles, as well as the North State championship. It marked the first time since 1996 they won both the division and North State crowns.

“No doubt about it, this team for me ranks up there with the 2003 state championship team,” Robinson said. “This was a special team. What I liked so much about this team was how hard they played. We had the star player in Mychal Ammons, but what was so good is that the role players played hard around him. It reminded me of the 1996 team when we had Quentin Smith.”

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There was no shame in being beaten by Meridian, a team that returned six seniors from last year’s Class 6A runner-up. Meridan (29-2) did not lose a game to a Mississippi school and the 15-point final margin against the Gators was the closest any team played the Wildcats in the postseason.

Ammons, who had 24 points in the final, was the big reason the Gators were able to keep it a game. The South Alabama signee scored 11 points in the third quarter to turn a 12-point halftime deficit into a six-point margin heading into the fourth quarter.

“Mike showed why he is one of the top players in Mississippi,” said Meridian’s Matthew Hurn, who guarded Ammons for most of the game before fouling out in the fourth quarter.

Meridian’s 6-foot-6 center Sydney Coleman said the goal was to stop Vicksburg from reaching the basket. It worked against everyone except Ammons. Willie Gibbs had 12 points for VHS, all on 3-pointers, and the rest of the team combined scored 11.

“We couldn’t stop him,” Coleman said. “We wanted to stop him, but didn’t. Maybe we slowed him down some, but the big thing was to keep the rest of them off the boards.”

Meridian’s Rodney Hood, who led the Wildcats with 24 points, said that was the goal. Meridian beat Vicksburg 61-53 in December at the Ridgeland Christmas Classic, but had a hard time stopping Josh Gaskin in that one. Gaskin, who scored 15 points in the earlier meeting, had just four on Saturday.

“We did a better job of rebounding this time than we did in the first game,” Hood said.

Fellow senior Kienta Ross said Meridian made it difficult to get inside.

“They made us spread out and it was hard to penetrate,” Ross said. “We fought hard to win this, but to get second it’s not so bad.”

For Ammons, the loss will sting but did not diminish the Gators’ year.

“This was definitely disappointing,” Ammons said. “Still, I’m proud of all that we accomplished. We just have to go on from here. It’s time to walk.”