Vikings happy for new tourney format

Published 12:36 am Sunday, February 15, 2015

Warren Central’s Mario Doyle prepares to shoot a 3-pointer last week against Murrah. Doyle and the Vikings will play Greenville Tuesday night in the Division 4-6A tournament. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

Warren Central’s Mario Doyle prepares to shoot a 3-pointer last week against Murrah. Doyle and the Vikings will play Greenville Tuesday night in the Division 4-6A tournament. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

In the not-too-distant past having to play Greenville in its home gym in the first round of the division tournament would have left any coach reaching for the Rolaids.

This year marks the beginning of a new era in Mississippi high school basketball, however. A change in format to the state tournament not only means playing on the road at Greenville isn’t the death sentence it once was, it’s an opportunity that brought a smile to the face of Warren Central coach Bruce Robinson.

Three teams, instead of two as in years past, will advance to the state tournament in Class 5A and 6A. The losers of Monday’s and Tuesday’s first-round games will get another chance in consolation games Thursday and Friday. It’s a change that has even lower-seeded like WC giddy about the possibility of extending their season.

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“You get a second chance. When I’m looking at it, our sister school (Vicksburg High) could very well win that consolation game even though they play Callaway first. That’s where we are,” Robinson said. “We’ve just got to stay focused and stay positive. I’m tired of losing, but I cannot let these kids get their heads down. The division tournament is just too important.”

Robinson’s Vikings finished the regular season 11-17, went 1-5 in division play, and slipped into the No. 4 seed with a loss to Murrah last week, but they’re far from an easy out. Three of their five division losses were by seven points or less. Two, including one to Greenville in January, came in double overtime. In all, they’ve played six games decided by three points or less.

“It’s going to help us in the future. I think we’ve learned from it, especially since we played Brookhaven (a 75-42 loss on Jan. 20),” Robinson said. “We know we’re struggling and trying to hold it together. If we can keep it together, I think we can stay positive heading into the tournament.”

That’s the same idea WC girls coach Jackie Glass has for her team. The Lady Vikes missed a chance to go into the tournament as the top seed when they lost to Murrah last week, and wound up as the No. 4 seed once a four-way tie for first place was sorted out. They’ll play Clinton Monday night in a first-round game.

Warren Central (15-12) only has two upperclassmen on its roster and has gone 9-3 since New Year’s. Two of those losses came in the past two weeks, but Glass was still happy with the progress her young team has made.

“We’ve been up and down, but have found some ways to win games. I think the young ones are turning the corner,” she said. “I think they’ve moved up well. This whole year is going to be very valuable. The competition level is not going to catch them by surprise.”

While she was optimistic about her team’s chances in the postseason, Glass was thankful for the new tournament format. A win in the first round would give Warren Central a home playoff game for the first time since 2008. A loss or a poor showing, however — both possibilities given the Lady Vikes’ youth and the parity within the division — still leaves room for redemption in the consolation game.

“It’s helpful not having it be such a pressure game. Now you have the opportunity to come back,” Glass said. “It’s a little cushion to be able to have an off game and not have to go home.”

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 reporters in the paper's 140-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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