The next step
Published 11:21 pm Saturday, February 15, 2014
Top-seeded Vikings confident heading into tourney
In November, when Warren Central was scuffling through an 0-5 start, coach Bruce Robinson didn’t show an ounce of concern.
The games that mattered, he was quick to point out, were in January and February. More than that, he felt his team was built to win those games with its defensive-oriented approach and deep roster.
It’s now mid-February, and Robinson’s assessment has been dead on. The Vikings (16-10) have won 16 of 21 games since that dreadful start, including matchups with championship contenders Gulfport, Ridgeland, Brookhaven and Pearl.
WC is has developed into a dark horse pick to advance to the Class 6A state tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum in a few weeks. The road to High Street starts tonight, a few blocks away on Woodrow Wilson Ave., when the top-seeded Vikings take on Greenville-Weston (11-14) in the first round of the Division 4-6A Tournament Monday at Murrah High School.
“I said back in November that we didn’t want to be ‘January good.’ I said we were built for the playoffs,” Robinson said. “I think we are hitting our peak. Once we beat Gulfport, something clicked in this team. It’s just a confidence level. You can watch the kids and see it in their eyes.”
Warren Central’s boys’ team hasn’t won its division tournament since 2004. It hasn’t been to the state tournament since 1974. This year’s group, however, seems poised to change that tradition of mediocrity.
The Vikings are led in scoring by junior guard Mario Doyle (12.3 points per game) and Gerald Glass (12.1 ppg), but have gotten contributions from nearly everyone in the regular rotation. The depth and ability of teammates to pick up the slack for each other has allowed the Vikings to weather slumps and off nights from key players.
Doyle, for instance, scored 21 points Thursday night against Murrah. In the same game, center Tristan Lowry had four points and point guard David Robinson didn’t score at all. When the teams played in Jackson the next night, Robinson scored a team-high 16 points, Lowry had 12 and Doyle seven.
“When you talk about top-to-bottom point guard play, we’ve got it. We’ve got solid big man play. We’ve got a good eight-man rotation. We handle pressure. We’re composed,” Bruce Robinson said. “I think we can make a deep run into the playoffs. This team was made for the playoffs. That’s what helps us so much, and they know that.”
The challenge for the Vikings now is to handle their success and build on it. They’ve struggled at times to finish games, blowing big leads in several division games before hanging on. On a larger scale, the program has rarely had aspirations beyond advancing out of the division tournament.
“Everything we do now is uncharted territory for me here, and certainly for these kids,” Bruce Robinson said. “We’re a good team. We’ve proven we can win the close games. I’m anxious to see how far this team can go.”
While the boys are dreaming big, WC’s girls are hoping for a miracle. They’re matched up in the first round with Clinton (21-3), which won the two regular-season games vs. WC by 46 and 42 points.
The Lady Vikes (7-18) have struggled to cope with a slew of injuries and disciplinary issues that have sidelined a number of players and derailed their season. WC was 5-8 after beating Callaway on Dec. 26, but has lost 10 of 12 games since then.
“I definitely don’t like losing, but you don’t want to feel the same stress every time you turn around,” WC coach Jackie Glass said. “I’m not wishing it was over with, but everything comes to an end. When it does, it’ll give me a chance to start rebuilding, release all the stress, and move on to next year.”
While admitting her team will have an uphill climb against Clinton, Glass said she was trying to stay optimistic and take whatever positives she can out of this season.
One superb effort might be enough to spring an upset for the ages and salvage a lost season.
“I’m a believer that anything can happen. I’m going to keep on believing that if we keep on trying and fight hard, you never know,” Glass said. “The odds are that we probably won’t, but anything can happen.”
Division 4-6A Tournament
At Murrah High School, Jackson
6 p.m. – Warren Central vs. Clinton
6 p.m. – Murrah vs. Greenville-Weston
6 p.m. – Championship game
7:30 p.m. – Greenville-Weston vs. Warren Central
7:30 p.m. – Clinton vs. Murrah
7:30 p.m. – Championship game