Round three: Gators ready for another crack at Callaway
Published 11:30 am Thursday, February 20, 2014
PEARL — All season long, Callaway has been the rabbit the Vicksburg Gators — and everyone else in Class 5A — have been chasing.
The Chargers, led by one of the country’s best juniors Malik Newman, have ripped off 15 consecutive wins and only lost once in 26 outings. Fewer than half of their games have even been competitive. The two-time defending Class 5A champions are a heavy favorite to add a third gold ball to their trophy case.
One of the few lurking threats to their coronation in the Mississippi Coliseum three weeks from tomorrow might be the next team on the schedule.
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Callaway (25-1) faces Vicksburg (16-6) in the boys Division 4-5A tournament championship game Friday night at Pearl High School. It’s the third — and, quite possibly, not last — meeting between the teams this season. Vicksburg has been close to taking down the king the first two times, and has gained confidence from each encounter. Heading into round three, players and coaches alike felt it was time to finally make their mark in this season-long saga.
“Deep down inside of their heart, they knew they were going to play us. Because you look at the regular season, nobody matched up well against them except us,” Vicksburg coach Dellie C. Robinson said. “We really believe we can beat them. We really do. We had them on the ropes twice. A couple of bad turnovers here and there.”
The Gators’ confidence is not just false bravado. They let a 10-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter of their first meeting with Callaway and lost 67-60. In the rematch in Jackson, Callaway scratched out a hard-fought 65-59 win.
The difference in both games was Newman. He scored 20 points in the fourth quarter of the first game to lead the Chargers’ comeback, then had 36 in the rematch. Callaway has plenty of other scoring options — Mario Kegler is averaging 15.5 points per game and two others are averaging at least 8 per game — and Robinson said he was determined to make sure it’s they, and not Newman, who beats them this time.
“Only thing we’ve learned, and what we’re not going to do this time, is we’re not going to let Malik beat us. Somebody else may beat us, but it won’t be Malik,” Robinson said. “We’re going to run at him, we’re going to double team him, we’re going to try our best to keep the ball out of his hands. Some of their other kids may score, but we’re not going to let him get in a groove.”
No matter the outcome Friday night, this might not be the last time the Gators and Chargers cross paths. By virtue of finishing first and second in their division, both teams have advanced to the Class 5A North State satellite round on Tuesday. They could conceivably play again next weekend for the North State title, then again for the Class 5A championship March 14 at the Mississippi Coliseum.
Vicksburg guard De’Angelo Richardson said that while he and his teammates have a very healthy respect for Callaway, their previous encounters have eliminated any jitters they might have about facing the state’s reigning juggernaut. Now, the Chargers are just the next obstacle on their way to a state championship.
“That’s gone. That’s out the window now,” Richardson said of Callaway’s intimidation factor. “We’re just pushing forward, trying to get to the Big House.”