Warren Central, Vicksburg begin region tournaments on Tuesday

Published 6:57 pm Monday, February 11, 2019

The Warren Central Vikings have struggled down the stretch and to maintain consistency all season long. They’ve alternated hot and cold streaks and needed a thrilling rally in the final minute Friday against Terry just to finish the regular season one game above .500.

When he surveys the landscape, however, coach Bruce Robinson sees opportunity. His Vikings, he believes, are battle-tested and ready to compete in the postseason against a field without a dominant team.

The road begins Tuesday, when the Vikings (14-13) take on Provine (17-9) in the first round of the Region 4-6A tournament at Clinton High School.

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“This is just me talking, and I’ll give you $5 to go get a Gatorade and nachos at the concession stand, we’re just as good as anybody up north,” Robinson said. “Up north is not as tough as down south. Starkville is sitting up north with one loss and they’re pretty good. Everybody else has got eight, nine, 10 losses. We’ve seen some of the toughest teams in the state. We don’t feel like it’s a matter of opponent, it’s a matter of us.”

The problem is, it’s hard to tell which “us” will show up when the Vikings take the floor. They won six games in a row in January and swept the other three teams in their region at home. That was followed by four straight road losses, including to all three teams within the region.

In their last four games, the Vikings scored a total of 29 points in the third quarter. They had 30 in the first half Friday against Terry, then scored five in the third quarter before rallying for 13 in the final 90 seconds of a 57-56 victory.
Robinson said opponents have been able to exploit some weaknesses of late that others have picked up on.

“When we went to Jim Hill (a 47-37 victory on Jan. 18), they played us so well by playing a lot of zone. We’ve seen a lot of zone played against us, and that may be the blueprint against us. When we were hot, people were playing a lot of man. Coaches pass films around, and that gave people an idea on how to play us,” Robinson said. “That took our momentum a little bit. We were wondering how good we were and it’s obvious to us that we’re not very good on the road right now. Hopefully we’ve gotten a little better going into next week.”

Provine won’t be an easy opponent. It has played Warren Central three times already this season — once in the Jackson Public Schools Tournament championship game and twice in region play — and won two of them. The three games have been decided by a total of nine points.

With such a narrow margin between them, the winner Tuesday figures to be whichever one plays better on that given night. Robinson hopes Friday’s victory and the realization that it’s now the postseason carries his team through.

“Everybody’s record is 0-0. The preliminaries are over. This is what we really work for. I’m hoping my guys are ready,” Robinson said. “They understand tournaments. They understand if you lose it’s over. It’s a good group of kids. We struggled early, then had success, struggled late, and we’re hoping the pattern continues.”

Warren Central’s girls’ team, meanwhile, is trying to break a pattern. It has lost five of its last seven games, including a 47-36 setback against Terry in Friday’s regular-season finale, and is only 4-8 in 2019.

The Lady Vikes (10-15) went with a youth movement when several players left the team in December and have had some good results from it. Freshman point guard Alaila Bracey has emerged as a key contributor and freshman center Zykerri Segrest has been a solid presence in the post. Segrest had a game-high 15 points against Terry.

“After the Vicksburg game and things started to go downhill, I think people left us for dead. For the most part we’ve survived. We’ve probably played the toughest schedule in 6A basketball. So we’re happy with the experience that all of those kids have got, that they didn’t have before we started,” Warren Central coach Darein Hilliard said. “We have a vision now that we didn’t at the beginning. I think it’s going to be very, very promising.”

The Lady Vikes’ ability to make any sort of postseason run, however, might hinge on the status of junior forward Aniya Sanders. She injured her leg late in the first half Friday and her status is uncertain for the region tournament. Warren Central plays Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Clinton (19-8).

Sanders scored in double figures in 14 consecutive games and had nine before she was injured against Terry. The loss of their primary scoring option and one of the best players in the state will certainly have an effect on how the Lady Vikes approach and perform in the postseason.

Clinton won both regular-season games against Warren Central, by 28 and 27 points.

“They have shot the ball, according to both Clinton coaches, better against us than they’ve shot against anybody else. I don’t know what that is or why they’ve done that. But we’ve got to get out of the zones and go get them,” Hilliard said. “We’ve got a game plan and we’re going to have to go with that game plan. We can’t change it. We’ve looked at them twice, and we’re confident that that’s how we’ve got to go out there and play. Our backs are against the wall and we’ve got to go out there and roll the dice.”

While Warren Central’s teams play at Clinton, Vicksburg High’s will head to Ridgeland High School for the Region 4-5A tournament.

The tournament actually started Monday night, with Ridgeland playing Germantown in the girls’ tournament and Callaway taking on Germantown in the boys’ first round.
The Vicksburg Missy Gators play Callaway Tuesday at 6 p.m., followed by the boys’ game between Vicksburg and Germantown at 7:30.

The losers play in the consolation games on Thursday at 6 and 7:30 p.m. The championship games are Friday at the same times.

The Missy Gators (16-11) have looked like a championship contender at times — 14 of their 16 wins came during streaks at the start of the season and in January — but are limping into the postseason on a five-game losing skid. Three of those losses came within the region, although they did win both meetings with Callaway (6-15) this season.

On the boys’ side, Vicksburg (16-9) is entering the postseason on a hot streak. It has won six of its last seven going into its first-round matchup with Ridgeland (21-6).
The Gators swept the season series from Ridgeland, winning 64-62 at home on Jan. 11 and 56-48 on the road on Jan. 25. They actually tied Callaway (18-7) for the top seed, but finished second on a point differential tiebreaker.

Vicksburg has gotten this far with a strong outside game. It is making 50 percent (114-for-228) of its 3-pointers, with Devan Kiner, Jermiyah Brown and Ty’Ron Moore all shooting 48 percent or better from outside the arc. All three are also averaging more than 10 points per game.

The Gators have not won their region tournament since 2013, but have played for it two years in a row. They’ve advanced to the Class 5A state tournament three years in a row.

The top three finishers in the division tournament advance to the state tournament, meaning the first-round winners are on to the next round regardless of what happens in the championship game.

At Clinton High School

4 p.m. – Greenville vs. Provine
7 p.m. – Warren Central vs. Clinton
4 p.m. – Consolation game
7 p.m. – Championship game

5:30 p.m. – Clinton vs. Greenville
8:30 p.m. – Warren Central vs. Provine
5:30 p.m. – Consolation game
8:30 p.m. – Championship game
Note: The top three teams in each division tournament advance to their respective classification’s state tournament.

At Ridgeland High School

6 p.m. – Vicksburg vs. Callaway
6 p.m. – Vicksburg-Callaway loser vs.
Ridgeland-Germantown loser (consolation game)
7:30 p.m. – Vicksburg-Ridgeland winner vs.
Callaway-Germantown winner (championship game)

7:30 p.m. – Vicksburg vs. Ridgeland
7:30 p.m. – VHS-Ridgeland loser vs. Callaway-Germantown loser (consolation game)
7:30 p.m. – VHS-Ridgeland winner vs. Callaway-Germantown winner (championship game)

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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