James powers Missy Gators to region championship with breakout performance

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, February 15, 2023

By her own admission, Kierra James has had more bad games than great ones this season. If she turns in a few more like this, however, nobody will remember the bad ones.

James, a junior forward, totaled a season-high 20 points and nine rebounds to lead Vicksburg High to a 53-44 victory over Callaway in the MHSAA Region 4-5A girls’ basketball tournament championship game.

It was the kind of breakout performance both James and the Missy Gators needed heading into the Class 5A state tournament. Vicksburg hosts Holmes County Central in a second-round game Friday at 6 p.m., after earning a bye as the region champion.

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“We’ve been waiting on Kierra to play like that all year,” Vicksburg coach Troy Stewart said. “We knew from this summer that she’s got it in her. It just seems like she’s taken a back seat when she doesn’t need to.”

James was in the driver’s seat against Callaway. The Lady Chargers made a concerted effort to take away Vicksburg’s outside shooters — the Missy Gators did not make a 3-pointer until the fourth quarter — which opened up the post for James.

With her teammates feeding her the ball down low, James converted shot after shot and cleaned up any rebounds as well.

“It was the game plan,” James said. “I knew that I had to step up tonight for us to win that game. I had bad games all season, but this one right here I knew I had to step up.”

Vicksburg’s other post players also contributed. Cynia Johnson and Jelisa Tyler combined for eight points and nine rebounds. Guard Janiah Caples also had 13 points and eight rebounds.

Stewart said getting more people involved in the offense will only make the Missy Gators more dangerous.

“They did a good job of getting the ball to (James) when she was feeling it. It was a good team effort,” Stewart said. “It makes us extremely hard to defend. When you bring a fourth element and a fifth element like that, if they’re producing we’re pretty much unstoppable.”

It was Vicksburg’s fourth consecutive region tournament championship. The Missy Gators reached the Class 5A semifinals in 2020, but lost in the second round each of the past two years to state power Neshoba Central.

Stewart said the trophy they raised following the win against Callaway was quite an achievement, but they still want to do it again in a few weeks at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.

“I can’t put into words. This is emotional, man,” Stewart said. “That’s a history-making unit in there. I hope we continue, and work our tails off, and get the ultimate goal, but I’m as proud as I can be of that group right there.”

• MHSAA Class 5A state tournament
• Friday, 6 p.m.
• Tickets available through GoFan.co

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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