Eagles aim for complete game

Published 11:25 am Thursday, February 16, 2012

LEARNED — At one end of Rebul Academy’s gym, there’s a large sign hanging on the wall that bears the slogan for the MAIS Class A South Central Tournament. It reads, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

It’s a mantra the Porters Chapel Eagles have apparently taken to heart.

In three playoff games, all played at Rebul, the Eagles have led by three points, seven points and one point at halftime. They’ve ended up winning all three by double digits. While relieved to end up in the win column and keep advancing, it’s a maddening pattern they hope to break in the semifinals Friday night against district rival Russell Christian.

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“Every game we’ve played like that. It takes us to the second half to get on track. I don’t know what it is,” said PCA senior Alton Burden, who had 12 points and four steals in a 57-43 win over Heidelberg in the first round of the South Central Tournament on Tuesday. “Ever since the season started, it’s been like that. We start off bad every time.”

The latest slow start wasn’t enough to derail the Eagles (21-4). The victory guaranteed them a spot in next week’s MAIS Class A state tournament at Delta Academy in Marks, regardless of what happens in the rest of the South Central tournament.

The 7-for-26 shooting performance in the first half against Heidelberg did raise an eyebrow or two, though. The Eagles led by just one point, 21-20, at halftime, and never pushed the lead into double digits until the closing moments of the fourth quarter. Kawayne Gaston drilled an uncontested 3-pointer at the final buzzer to make the score a little more lopsided than the game really was.

“It was kind of like we were just toying around,“ PCA coach E.J. Creel said. “We cannot come out and play just when we have to. We’re going to get to teams where that happens and you’re going to be down 15-0, and you’ve got too big a hole. You’re not going to be able to come back out. We’re going to have to re-evaluate before Friday.”

That team could very well be Russell. PCA won both meetings in the regular season, but needed a last-second shot to pull out a 55-54 victory on the road on Jan. 20. Creel said several players that transferred from Calvary Christian over the holiday break made a big difference for Russell.

Calvary disbanded its basketball program and the MAIS allowed its players to transfer to Russell. Both schools are located in the Meridian area.

Creel also said Russell plays the same style of up-tempo basketball that her team prefers, which seemed to give the Eagles problems.

“They match up better with us than Newton does, to me. Their style is a little more like ours, they’re a little faster-paced. I think that’s what got us the second game,” Creel said. Newton Academy beat Russell in the District 5-A Tournament semifinals, but was routed 56-31 by PCA in the championship game.