Gators on hunt for state tourney bid

Published 11:30 am Friday, February 28, 2014

Vicksburg’s De’Angelo Richardson brings the ball up the floor during last week’s division tournament against Pearl. Richardson and the Gators will face Center Hill in the Class 5A tournament tonight at West Point.

Vicksburg’s De’Angelo Richardson brings the ball up the floor during last week’s division tournament against Pearl. Richardson and the Gators will face Center Hill in the Class 5A tournament tonight at West Point.

The Vicksburg Gators’ playoff life was flashing before their eyes.

Down eight points in the fourth quarter against a tough Ridgeland team, and with seemingly nothing working, it seemed as if a promising season was going up in flames. The Gators, though, hit a string of clutch shots, rallied to win and advanced to the Class 5A North State tournament.

Now, with a second chance, they’re determined to make the most of it. The Gators (17-6) play Center Hill (25-6) tonight at West Point, one win away from their first trip to the state tournament since 2011. The fourth-quarter comeback against Ridgeland has them flying high and eager to punch their ticket to the Mississippi Coliseum.

“It just sent our confidence through the roof. After this game right here, we’re going to think we can beat anybody now. Especially on their home floor,” Vicksburg coach Dellie C. Robinson said. “When we come over here and beat a team like this, with a record of 21-4 and won their district, and you can come over here (to Ridgeland) and get a win, any kind of way you can get it, that’s going to boost our confidence. That’s going to boost our morale in practice tomorrow. It’s just going to be a good atmosphere until we get to North State.”

The Gators have had two days to prepare for Center Hill, but after beating Ridgeland their focus was as much about who they weren’t playing as who they are playing.

The other North State semifinal features Callaway (27-1) and West Point (25-5). Division rival Callaway has beaten Vicksburg three times this season and is a big favorite to win the Class 5A championship. A matchup with West Point, the tournament host, would have meant three consecutive elimination games on an opponent’s home floor.

Vicksburg’s first two elimination games this postseason came in the division tournament at Pearl, and in Tuesday’s satellite round at Ridgeland.

By contrast, even a tough game against Division 1-5A champion Center Hill — which has three players who are either 6-foot-5 or 6-foot-6, a major mismatch for the undersized Gators — didn’t look so bad.

“The good thing is, Callaway gets to play (West Point) on their home floor and not us. Whoever we play, it’s going to be neutral. We’re about tired of playing the home team,” Robinson said.

Even though they aren’t matched up with them in the semifinals, Callaway continues to be both a ghost and a prize the Gators are chasing. Callaway won two closely contested games in the regular season, then dominated a 25-point blowout in the division tournament championship game last week.

All season long, Callaway has been the gold standard in Class 5A. Vicksburg has been tantalizingly close to beating the Chargers, yet hasn’t quite gotten the job done. It might have two more chances, only one of which truly matters at this point. Getting another crack or two at Callaway also means the Gators are doing things right.

Tonight’s semifinal winners are both guaranteed of a spot in the state tournament. If the Gators play Callaway on Saturday, it’ll still mean they’re heading to the Big House.

Round 5 against Callaway would be March 14 for the state title. If that comes to pass, Robinson said he’d be happy to see the Chargers one last time.

“This is the time of season you have to be playing well. This is what you play for. The regular season is just going through some of this to get ready for the playoffs. When you get to the playoffs, it’s a whole different season, a whole different atmosphere,” Robinson said. “We knew one thing — once we got by Callaway, we wouldn’t have to play Callaway again unless we see them in the championship. We’re playing Callaway, we’re in good shape.”

 Class 5A North State schedule

At West Point

Today

6 p.m. – Vicksburg vs. Center Hill

7:30 p.m. – Callaway vs. West Point

Saturday

7 p.m. – Championship game

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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