County teams shake off division losses, turn attention to state tournament

Published 8:21 am Monday, February 20, 2017

Warren County’s basketball teams limped away from Friday’s division tournament championship games with bruised egos and feelings, but also with a sense of perspective.

The season isn’t over. The MHSAA state tournament is approaching fast, and the Warren Central Vikings and Lady Vikes, and the Vicksburg Gators, are all a part of it. It’s a second chance at a championship, or at least a successful finish, and it begins at home.

Both Warren Central teams will host Hernando in the first round of the Class 6A tournament on Tuesday. The girls’ game begins at 5:30 p.m. and the boys at 7.

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Vicksburg will also play at home on Tuesday, at 7 p.m. against West Point in the first round of the Class 5A boys’ tournament.

The home games are a reward for finishing second in the division tournament and, Warren Central boys coach Bruce Robinson said, no small advantage in an oddball matchup against a team traveling from three or four hours away.

“I don’t know a whole lot about them. They’re par-.500 about like we are. It’s probably somebody we can match up with,” Robinson said. “The main thing is, we’re playing them here. We don’t have to get on that bus and travel. You know where Hernando is? You can spit into Memphis. That’s a long way for us to travel. It’s good to have that playoff game here.”

Hernando (9-17) has never played Warren Central (11-15), but the boys’ programs share a similar recent history. Hernando has not had a winning season since 2007-08, and Warren Central hasn’t had one since 2013-14.

Warren Central has not won consecutive games this season since early December, and Hernando hasn’t had a winning streak since late December. Hernando lost 10 consecutive games in January and February, and 11 of 12 before beating South Panola in the Division 2-6A consolation game.

Warren Central has been better than that, but still has struggled with inconsistency. It scored a huge upset win over Clinton in the first round of the Division 4-6A tournament, and then followed that up with a dud in a 73-51 loss to Murrah in the championship game. WC has lost four of its last five overall heading into the state tournament.

Robinson called the matchup with Hernando “favorable,” but added that a better defensive effort was needed to take advantage of it.

“It’s going to take a decent effort on the defensive side. We’ve got to be determined to play defense,” Robinson said. “What we’re matched up against, I don’t see them being as offensively efficient as Murrah. Murrah’s got three or four kids that can really score. We’ve got to play defense.”

On the girls’ side, Warren Central (22-9) is trying to regroup after losing a tough championship game against Murrah. The Lady Vikes committed three turnovers, and missed two shots and two free throws in the last two minutes of a 39-36 defeat Friday night.

Most of the storylines for the girls’ game are the same as the boys. Warren Central is trying to bounce back from a disappointing loss against a strange opponent — the girls’ team has never played Hernando (16-11) either — and knows it needs to step up its defensive effort to do it. Murrah not only took advantage of WC’s late mistakes to win on Friday, but got a number of easy baskets earlier in the game that forced the Lady Vikes to play from behind for most of the second half.

Like Robinson, WC girls coach Jackie Martin-Glass was grateful to be at home instead of taking a long bus trip to North Mississippi.

“That’s a big advantage, but if we can win that game we still have to go on the road and I tell them championships are won on the road,” Martin-Glass said. “The route we’re taking now isn’t the most favorable one, but it is one. Sometimes you take the hard road to get there. However it takes to get there, we just have to go out and execute and play defense.”

While she was obviously disappointed that her Lady Vikes failed to bring home their first division title since 2009, Martin-Glass said finishing second might be a blessing in some ways.

She said her team usually plays better when it can get back on the court quickly after a tough loss. It’s a road they took to win the Jackson Public Schools Tournament in December, when they lost the opener of the double-elimination event and then won four games in two days to claim the championship.

“We played in the JPS and it was something similar to this. We had one day off and came back and played,” Martin-Glass said. “So sometimes having too many days off isn’t good, either, because it can hurt your chemistry. You can laze around and everybody else is playing and rolling and they catch you out of sync. We just have to roll with it.”

Vicksburg, meanwhile, is a little more familiar with its first-round opponent. The Gators (18-9) played — and beat — West Point (5-21) in a holiday tournament at Ridgeland High School on Dec. 19.

The Gators were powered in that 64-53 victory by forward Kirk Parker, who finished with a season-high 36 points and 12 rebounds, but have become a much more rounded team since then. Four players, including Parker, are averaging more than seven points per game.

West Point also has a big-time scorer with Austin Crowley, a sophomore guard who scored 29 points in the first game against the Gators.

The December loss to Vicksburg started a 15-game losing streak for West Point. It was finally snapped when the Green Wave upset Saltillo 84-69 in the Division 2-5A consolation game.

Vicksburg has lost four of its last five games heading into the state tournament. It advanced by beating Ridgeland 46-43 in the first round of the Division 4-5A tournament, but was blown out 76-45 by Neshoba Central — one of the top teams in Class 5A — in the championship game.

The winner of Tuesday’s game will play at Division 1-5A champion Clarksdale (8-13) in the second round on Friday.

Tuesday – First round
5:30 p.m. – Hernando at Warren Central (Class 6A girls)
7 p.m. – Hernando at Warren Central (Class 6A boys)
7 p.m. – West Point at Vicksburg (Class 5A boys)
Friday – Second round
5:30 p.m. – Hernando/WC winner at Olive Branch (Class 6A girls)
7 p.m. – Hernando/WC winner at Olive Branch (Class 6A boys)
7 p.m. – West Point/VHS winner at Clarksdale (Class 5A boys)

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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