Missy Gators’ season ends with stunning playoff loss to Holmes

Published 10:51 pm Friday, February 17, 2023

Every time the Vicksburg Missy Gators needed to make a shot, it banged off the rim.

Every time they needed a rebound, it slipped through their fingers or sailed just over outstretched hands.
And when they needed a miracle to keep their season alive, it was nowhere to be found.

The season the Missy Gators expected to end with a state championship celebration in March ended instead on a cold night in February. Dekyra Mitchell scored 27 points and came up with a game-clinching steal in the final seconds as Holmes County Central beat Vicksburg 70-68 Friday in a stunning upset in the MHSAA Class 5A girls basketball tournament.

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Vicksburg (25-6) has eight seniors on the roster who won 81 games over the past four seasons, but lost in the second round of the state tournament for the third year in a row.

“This is the team I expected to get us a gold ball,” Vicksburg coach Troy Stewart said, his voice cracking with emotion. “The expectations were through the roof. So this hurts worse than anything I’ve ever gone through in my professional career. I never expected to lose that game.”

Holmes County Central (10-12) advanced to the quarterfinals against Lafayette on Feb. 25.

Vicksburg beat Holmes twice in the regular season, by 37 and 25 points, but things never clicked this time.

The Missy Gators went 10-for-19 from the free throw line in the first half, and shot 31.8 percent from the field for the game. Most of the missed field goals were from close range, which is where Holmes County Central excelled.

The Jaguars only made two 3-pointers. Most of their baskets were on layups either created in transition or by working the ball down low. In addition to Mitchell’s 27 points, Ixana Winters scored 16 and A’Jah Davis had 12.

“We missed way too many layups and free throws, and didn’t get back in transition. That sums it up. That’s what happened,” Stewart said.

Despite all of their struggles, the Missy Gators still entered the fourth quarter down a manageable four points, 43-39. They had trailed by eight with less than three minutes left in the third.

Holmes County Central quickly changed the complexion of the game as the fourth quarter opened. A 13-2 run put the Jaguars ahead 56-41 with 5:39 remaining, and it was finally time for the Missy Gators to get worried.

“That hurts. But that was our fault, too,” Stewart said of the run. “When you take long shots you can expect a long rebound most of the time if you don’t make it. They got out in transition and beat us back. They actually took the game we used, and used it against us.”

Vicksburg finally made its move coming down the stretch. Layla Carter scored 11 of her 21 points in the fourth quarter, including seven in the last 3:37, to pull the Missy Gators back in it.

A three-point play by Jelisa Tyler with 11.9 seconds left got it to within 70-68, and a turnover by Holmes gave Vicksburg the ball back with 7.9 to go.

Rodrianna Hall quickly brought the ball up the floor, drove toward the lane and tried to kick it out to JaNa Colenburg in the left corner for a potential game-winning 3-pointer.

Colenburg made a game-winning 3 two weeks earlier against Clinton, but never got the chance to shoot this one.

Mitchell jumped into the passing lane, snatched the ball and passed it ahead to a teammate in the frontcourt as the last three seconds ran off the clock.

The Jaguars flooded onto the court after the buzzer, celebrating on the center logo while the Missy Gators stood stunned, scattered around the court with their hands on their heads.

“I wasn’t even concerned until the fourth quarter,” Stewart said. “I just knew we were going to turn it around or make that one play that was going to define it or change the game. It never came. That play never came.”

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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