Lady Vikes happy, not satisfied with trip to Jackson for Class 6A quarterfinals

Published 8:00 am Friday, March 2, 2018

Four years ago, Warren Central coach Jackie Martin-Glass took a calculated risk. She threw a team loaded with talented freshmen into the varsity fire, in the hopes they could grow together into a championship contender.

It took a while, perhaps longer than anyone would have liked. But the Lady Vikes are finally in the hunt, playing well, and ready to take those final steps toward a coveted gold basketball when they resume their state tournament run Saturday morning against Pearl.

The Lady Vikes (22-8) and Lady Pirates (29-2) will play in the Class 6A quarterfinals at 10:30 a.m. at Jackson State University’s Lee E. Williams Athletic Activities Center.

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“We’re not satisfied. It’s a good feeling just to be at Jackson State because we accomplished something they haven’t done in a long time,” Warren Central senior guard T.T. Sims said. “If we get past Jackson State we’ll probably be even more hungry to get a championship. Whoever comes that night, we’re going to battle to win. We’ve been ready for this since ninth grade.”

This is Warren Central’s first trip to the Jackson portion of the tournament since 2007. That capped a string of four appearances in five seasons in the state’s final six.

Eight teams advance to Jackson these days, and these Lady Vikes have been building toward this for a long time.

They finished with a winning record in 2015, but finished the season with two losses in the division tournament. The following year they pushed eventual state runner-up Callaway hard in the first round of the state tournament before losing 53-43.

Another unfavorable draw in 2017 matched them up with a powerful Olive Branch squad in the second round, which resulted in a 75-59 loss. Olive Branch went on to win the Class 6A championship but later had to vacate it for using ineligible players.

Finally, 2018 was the year. The Lady Vikes lost to Greenville in the first round of the Division 4-6A tournament, but bounced back to rout Provine in the third-place game and reach the state tournament. That was followed with road wins at Hernando and Columbus, and now there’s a much shorter trip to Jackson that feels like it took forever to make.

“It makes me proud and happy. Since I’ve been here it’s been my goal and my desire to take them as far as we can. To get to Jackson State, and possibly the Coliseum and the championship game, would be awesome. I think I have the group to do it,” Martin-Glass said. “I always tell people who ask about basketball, that it’s a process. It’s been a long time, with a lot of players and a lot of issues, and to get here and right now be healthy is pretty good and pretty satisfying to be in the position we’re in.”

The quarterfinal between Warren Central and Pearl should be a defensive battle.

Pearl is allowing just 42.8 points per game, while collecting nearly 20 steals per game as a team. It has won 18 games in a row.

To counter Pearl’s pressing, attacking defense, Martin-Glass said she has had her players practicing this week against members of Warren Central’s boys’ team. The idea is to give them experience against faster, more physical players than they’ll see on Saturday.

“They are a pressing team. They want to get you frustrated and make you make mistakes. Our whole game plan is to come in and get comfortable with that type of atmosphere and that type of pressure so we don’t walk in there and get blinded,” Martin-Glass said. “A lot of times we don’t play teams that press the whole game, and they will press the whole game. A 10- or 12-point lead doesn’t faze them because of their press and how they’re able to create turnovers and fast transition points.”

While Pearl’s defense has been outstanding, Warren Central’s has more than held its own — especially the past couple of weeks. The Lady Vikes have not allowed any opponent this season to score more than 60 points. Three of the last four have not even cracked 40.

“Our intensity and our press have been working. We haven’t been lazy on defense. Everybody just does their job well and we’re an athletic team. If everybody uses their athleticism, we’re a hard team to score on,” said WC center Amber Gaston, who is averaging 12.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game.

The key, then, might be which team best handles the pressure of the big stage. This is Warren Central’s deepest playoff run in more than a decade. Pearl reached the Class 5A semifinals in 2015 with an entirely different cast, but has not had much of a tradition in girls’ basketball. This is only its second 20-win season in the past decade, and it was just 16-11 last year.

“It’s different because it’s our first time here. A lot of teams that are here have been in this position over time. So it’s going to be a big adjustment,” Martin-Glass said.

The Lady Vikes were built for this. These seniors went undefeated while winning the eighth-grade Little Six Conference championship and were expected to do big things on the varsity level. They’ve got their chance now, and aren’t in the mood to waste it.

“It’s just too late to stop now. We’re going for the gold ball,” Sims said with a grin.

Saturday, at Jackson State
9 a.m. – Starkville vs. St. Martin
10:30 a.m. – Warren Central vs. Pearl
Noon – Murrah vs. Gulfport
1:30 p.m. – Tupelo vs. Oak Grove


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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