VHS-WC rivalry game offers chance for experience

Published 10:00 pm Friday, December 8, 2017

On Saturday afternoon, a capacity crowd of nearly 1,000 people is expected to cram into Warren Central’s gym for the first of two meetings this season between WC and Vicksburg High’s basketball teams.

It will be loud. It will be raucous. It will be a highlight of the season, but for the game’s participants it will also be just a bit of preparation for things to come.

The pressure-packed atmosphere will give both the Vikings and Gators a taste of what lays ahead in the more important division and postseason games of January and February. That, and building or continuing some early-season momentum, is as important as winning Warren County bragging rights at this stage of the season.

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“Practice is one thing, but when the light comes on and you look in the stands and can’t hardly hear your coach, it’s a whole different monster. A lot of our guys need it,” Vicksburg boys’ coach Kelvin Carter said.

Carter’s Gators also need some momentum. They’ve alternated wins and losses while compiling a 4-4 record through their first eight games. They haven’t won back-to-back games yet, but can accomplish that by beating Warren Central.

Vicksburg beat Northwest Rankin 85-70 in its last outing on Tuesday.

The Gators have played well — Darius Johnson (14.4 points per game), Jeremiyah Brown (10.0) and Ke’Darrion Parson (9.4) and Gregory Jenkins (8.1) are all averaging more than eight points per game — but inconsistency has plagued them. In the two games before beating Northwest Rankin, the Gators lost by double digits.

“It’s an important game to get some momentum, because we win one and lose one. We’d like to put a couple of them together,” Carter said. “We’ve played a couple of games where everything was tight, and suddenly we go through a slump where we can’t score. The other night we put our best game together because we defended well and we scored.”

On the other side of town, Warren Central (6-2) is red hot. It has won five consecutive games for its longest winning streak since a seven-gamer late in the 2013-14 season.

“We’re just playing as a team. Getting on one page. That’s the start of it. We’re communicating on and off the court,” senior forward De’Arius Henyard said. “Most people probably think we’re cocky or something. I think we’re very confident because we’re clicking together. We know each other. We’ve been playing with each other for a long time, so I think it’s all coming together.”

Like Vicksburg, Warren Central is doing it with a balanced effort. Chavis Smith (12.8 ppg), Henyard (12.5) and Chris Early (10.7) are all averaging in double figures, but nine players are putting in at least four points per game.

WC assistant coach James Lewis said getting everyone involved has contributed heavily to the team’s success. Lewis is filling in for head coach Bruce Robinson, who is out on medical leave.

“We’ve also been playing a lot of kids off the bench. Our depth has been coming on,” Lewis said. “We’re playing a lot of sophomores, too, and not just spelling them for the starters. They’re producing with an offensive rebound or taking a charge. That’s exciting to watch.”

So, usually, are the Vicksburg-Warren Central games. The boys’ teams have split their last six meetings since Warren Central snapped a 19-game losing streak in the series in 2014. Five of those six games have been decided by three points or less, with the lone exception a 51-36 Vicksburg victory in 2015.

The teams will play again Jan. 13 at Vicksburg.

If Saturday’s game holds to recent trends, Lewis said it will serve as a valuable learning tool for both sides. Even though this game doesn’t count for more than one win or loss on the overall record, few things prepare a team for the postseason like having to gut out a close game against a major rival in front of a packed house.

“I told them to go out there and put on a good show. The difference between average players to good players, and good players to great players is, those guys who can perform under pressure,” Lewis said. “With 800 or 900 people looking at you, how are you going to perform? That’s something we’ve been practicing, and so far we’ve had a good week of preparation.”

Noon – Junior varsity girls
1:30 p.m. – Varsity girls
3 p.m. – Varsity boys
Note: The JV boys game has been cancelled because of ACT exams.

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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