One more time
Published 11:30 am Friday, March 14, 2014
Vicksburg, Callaway meet for fifth and final time tonight in Class 5A championship game
8 p.m. MPB – Vicksburg vs. Callaway
Callaway has the best player in the country, perhaps the best team in Mississippi, and one of the most impressive ongoing dynasties anywhere. Its 31-1 record and four state championship trophies since 2009 — the most dominant run the MHSAA has seen since 1971 — are testament to the program’s accomplishments.
The Vicksburg Gators have a scrappy group of undersized guards and four losses already this season to Callaway. Its one gold ball under coach Dellie C. Robinson was won more than a decade ago.
Are the Gators (19-8) underdogs heading into tonight’s Class 5A championship game at the Mississippi Coliseum?
Does it bother them?
“I told my kids at the beginning of the season, any time we can play Callaway that’s a plus for us because we know chances are it’s going to be in the championship round. If we’re playing them, we’re in the championship round again,” Robinson said. “We said we’re going to play them five times. All we need to do is win one out of five, and I think the one coming up might be ours.”
Like the Black Knight character in the comedy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” who is slowly dismembered by another knight yet keeps spoiling for a fight, the Gators have been beaten up repeatedly by Callaway but keep coming back for more.
Two regular-season games were close, with Callaway pulling out seven- and six-point wins in the fourth quarter. Then, in two postseason meetings, the Chargers unveiled Plan B. They amped up the defensive pressure and dominated the smaller Gators inside. The result was a 69-44 blowout in the Division 4-5A tournament final, and a 73-54 rout a week later in the Class 5A North State championship game.
“The first two games they played us, they wanted a shootout. They wanted to match our 3-point shooting and our quickness. Then the last two games they decided to use their power. They went down inside on us. That’s how they hurt us,” Robinson said. “We’re going to have to make some adjustments. They’re probably going to do the same thing, because they know it’s how they hurt us.”
Vicksburg guard De’Angelo Richardson said the last two meetings were a bit humbling, but that the magnitude of tonight’s fifth and final encounter with Callaway will be enough to put it well behind them.
“As far as confidence, yeah,” Richardson said when asked if the Gators had taken the losses hard. “But I feel like our confidence is fixing to go right back up, because we know how big this championship game is. We have to come with it or go home.”
The challenge for the Gators now is figuring out how to counter Callaway’s adjustments. The Gators have gotten solid inside play from forwards Kris Walker and Kirk Parker — they combined for 11 points and nine rebounds in an 82-67 win over Pascagoula in the state semifinals — but they are likely to be outmanned. Callaway has four players in its regular rotation, including All-America guard Malik Newman, who are as tall or taller than both Walker and Parker.
Newman is averaging 29.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game this season. He’s averaged 28.8 points in the four games against Vicksburg.
The Gators, though, do feel like they have an ace in the hole. Having seen Callaway so often this season, they’re intimately familiar with the Chargers’ schemes and abilities. They’ve also had something they didn’t have before the North State final — time.
VHS players and coaches attributed at least part of the lopsided score in the last meeting to fatigue. The Gators played a double overtime game against Center Hill the night before and were worn out. Now, with four days between the Class 5A semifinals and championship game, they feel they’ll be on more even footing.
“That’s really going to help us, because we’re going to have a couple of days to get our legs back under us,” Robinson said. “Hopefully this time we have a few days to rest, get our legs back under us, focus, go back and watch some film and do some things here and there to control that inside game of theirs. Hopefully we come out and at least give them a ballgame.”