Flashes enjoying turnaround season on the court

Published 12:03 am Friday, January 12, 2024

St. Aloysius has a long, rich athletic tradition that boys’ basketball has never been a big part of. The Flashes have rarely won district championships, let alone sniffed state titles.

This year’s team is doing its best to change that.

After winning only three games last season, the 2023-24 Flashes secured win No. 11 by beating the Jackson Victors 67-45 on Thursday. It was their third consecutive win since returning from the holiday break, and the success is changing the attitude and expectations around the program.

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“We’re practicing harder, we’re playing harder … I try to tell them if you’ll play to a certain level people will start coming,” St. Al coach Walter Hallberg said. “The gym’s fuller. It’s a lot better. People want to come when you’re winning and you’re playing good. Even the close games we lost, we had packed gyms for three of those games. The excitement’s here.”

Hallberg is in his first full season as the Flashes coach. He took the reins for the final month of last season, making him the team’s third coach in less than a year.

Hallberg led Porter’s Chapel Academy to the MAIS Class 3A semifinals in 2022 and was The Vicksburg Post’s Coach of the Year. While his coaching skill has helped turn the Flashes around, junior forward Anthony McCloud said the team has benefited just as much from having stability at the top.

“Since we had to go through three different coaches in one year we weren’t centered in all the way, the way we are now that we’ve had Coach Hallberg since the summer and last year. Everything is rolling now,” said McCloud, who had 22 points, four steals and four assists in Thursday’s win against the Victors.

Hallberg credited his players for improving and playing their roles as well. McCloud and senior forward Korey Sims have provided scoring and rebounding inside, which has allowed guards Carter Henderson, Carson Henderson and Carson Gleese to handle the ball on the perimeter.

Hallberg said he’s been able to let each starter play to their strengths instead of forcing them into uncomfortable roles.

“We’ve switched up defenses and it’s worked much better for us,” Hallberg said. “We’re not an overly big team. We’ve got a lot of tall, skinny guys. So we’ve tried to put more pressure on the guards and leave our two big guys inside to guard the goal and rebound, and they’ve done it well. It’s helped us having three guards out front.”

Even when they’ve stumbled this season, Hallberg said the Flashes have found reason to be encouraged. Four of their eight losses, including one to MAIS District 4-5A rival Adams County Christian School, were decided in the final minute.

“Four of the losses we have, we lost in the last minute. We could easily be 15-4,” Hallberg said.

Thursday’s game didn’t come with any drama. After a slow start the Flashes closed the first quarter with a 9-2 run and opened a 17-point lead by the middle of the second. It was 39-17 at halftime, and the Victors never got closer than 19 points after that.

Sims added 13 points and 12 rebounds to McCloud’s 22-point night, and Carter Henderson scored eight of his 12 points in the first half. Carson Henderson finished with nine points, and Gleese had five.

Sadler Lambiotte also had five assists, and as a team the Flashes finished with 22 assists on 25 made baskets.

“Since I wasn’t making shots in the beginning I just started passing it around so I could get shots on the inside,” McCloud said. “Once one person starts going, everybody starts going, and that’s what happened.”

The Flashes (11-8) will have a long weekend to rest before beginning a stretch of four district games in a two-week span. A home game Friday night against Cathedral was postponed because of weather and rescheduled for Jan. 25, and a Monday road trip to Greenville Christian was canceled.

St. Al’s next game is Tuesday, at home vs. Copiah Academy, and it will take a road trip to Natchez on Jan. 19 for a rematch with ACCS. St. Al lost 52-51 to ACCS in December.

Hallberg said next week will give the Flashes a good idea of where they stand heading toward the postseason — and likely chart their path through it.

“I don’t see any reason why we don’t have a chance to come in first” in District 4-5A, Hallberg said. “We’re not having a district tournament this year so seeding going into the South State tournament is going to be big. They have two of the best teams in the state in the conferences we’re going to go up against, so we really need to come in first or second.”

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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