Tourney berth puts Gators in elite class
Published 11:30 am Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Vicksburg making fourth trip
to Coliseum in seven seasons
The Vicksburg Gators are painfully aware of the razor-thin line between a good season and a great one.
The past two seasons, a total of four points — just a few more free throws or one or two shots — kept them from advancing deeper into the playoffs. This year, they’ve had two playoff games decided by a total of six points.
The difference, of course, is that the Gators have been on the right side of the line this time. After beating Ridgeland in the final moments of regulation, then Center Hill in double overtime, Vicksburg is back in the MHSAA state tournament for the first time since 2011.
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It’s a berth that’s as much relief as reward for the Gators, who endured two agonizing playoff losses in 2012 and 2013 before breaking through this year. Vicksburg will play Pascagoula on Monday afternoon at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
“I’m just happy we made it,” VHS senior guard De’Angelo Richardson said. “We’ve got unfinished business. We got one goal out of the way making it. Now we have another, and that’s a gold ball. That’s what we’re aiming for.”
Although this is the first trip to the state tournament for this group of Gators — only senior point guard Edward Davis, then a freshman backup, was on the roster when the team reached the 2011 Class 6A championship game — it puts the program in an elite class.
It’s Vicksburg’s fourth trip to the state tournament since 2008. In Mississippi’s two largest classifications, only Provine, with six appearances, and Callaway with five, have been there more often in the past seven seasons. Biloxi, Pascagoula and Starkville have also made four appearances each.
“That’s a tremendous accomplishment for any basketball team, and any basketball coach as well,” Vicksburg coach Dellie C. Robinson said. “It is hard to get to the Coliseum. You have to have a good basketball team, then you have to have some breaks.”
In years past, the breaks went against the Gators.
In 2012, with an almost entirely different roster than the one that played for the title the year before, Vicksburg lost 49-46 to Desoto Central in a North State satellite round game. The next year, the Gators were bounced on a buzzer beater in the North State semifinals against eventual Class 6A champion Murrah.
This time, the breaks seem to be lining up for the Gators. In a North State satellite game at Ridgeland, Vicksburg rallied from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter. The Gators’ winning shot was set up by a pass that slipped off a Ridgeland player’s hands with a minute to go.
That sent them into a North State slugfest with Center Hill. Despite having two key players foul out in overtime, the Gators were carried home to a 78-74 double overtime win thanks to clutch performances by role players Kris Walker and La’Derrie Ward.
Vicksburg lost 73-54 to Callaway in the North State final, but even that loss — the second in the postseason to the juggernaut Chargers (28-1) — had a silver lining. By coming out of the same division as the two-time defending Class 5A champions, neither loss came in an elimination game. If they play Callaway again, it’ll be for the state title next Friday night.
“I think favor is on our side. I believe God has shown us a little favor,” Robinson said. “I hope He continues to favor us when we play Pascagoula.”