Gators start playoffs with Saturday game vs. Lake Cormorant

Published 3:05 pm Friday, February 16, 2024

As much as they would have enjoyed and celebrated winning their region tournament, the Vicksburg Gators are not dwelling on it.

For one thing, there’s still work to do. For another, it might have given them a more favorable path to a state championship.

By finishing second in Region 2-6A, the Gators (21-6) received a spot in the North half of the MHSAA Class 6A playoff bracket. That will allow them to avoid several of Class 6A’s heaviest hitters that are on the South side and provide a true neutral court match-up in round two.

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“The first-place team has a harder route because they have to go south. They have to play Picayune, Pascagoula, Hattiesburg. They’re in a deeper pot than we are,” Vicksburg coach Kelvin Carter said. “We just have to find a way to get past Saturday and get to Thursday.”

“Saturday” is the Gators’ first-round playoff game, at home at 4 p.m. vs. Lake Cormorant (17-8).
Playing in it is another reward for Vicksburg for finishing second in Region 2-6A.

In recent years, the MHSAA’s state tournament bracket included 24 of 32 teams in each classification and had the first two rounds played at campus sites. Region champions received a bye.

The latest reclassification cycle, however, reduced the bracket to 16 teams — there are now 24 total in Class 6A — and only the first round is on campus. The Vicksburg-Lake Cormorant winner will play either Olive Branch (23-3) or Columbus (18-10) on Feb. 22 at Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena.

If Vicksburg wins Saturday, whoever it plays will have to travel approximately two hours to Itta Bena just like the Gators will. By contrast, the South bracket plays its second-round games at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College — a much closer drive for tournament heavyweights Pascagoula (26-1) and Hattiesburg (25-4). Hattiesburg won the Class 5A championship in 2023.

In the old format, teams playing in the first round had to win five games to win a state championship, including two or three potential road games. In the new format, three of the four games on the road to a state title are at neutral sites.

The semifinals and championship game are at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson Feb. 28 and March 2, respectively.

“It’s a lot different. Now it’s an even playing field. It’s a shorter path. You’ve just got to win,” Carter said.

The Gators certainly seem equipped to win in the postseason. They have three reliable double-digit scorers — guards Davian Williams and Tyler Henderson, and center Kameryn Bailey — as well as role players like Jaylin Jackson, Michael Johnson and Kealon Bass who have often joined them.

Carter said the linchpin of the group is Bailey. The 6-foot-7 center is averaging 14.5 points, 12.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, and his presence inside helps open things up for the Gators’ talented outside shooters.

“We’ve always had guards, but we’ve never had anybody inside at all that could help us. Now we have a guy that’s pretty much a double-double guy. He’s been the glue,” Carter said. “Davian has been spectacular. Tyler Henderson has been spectacular as well. But I don’t think we’d be this far in the game, or our record would be what it is, without Kameryn Bailey.”

Now the Gators will find out if their talented group has the right formula to get over the stubborn hump they’ve been stuck on for nearly a decade.

Vicksburg played for state championships twice in four seasons, in 2011 and 2014. It has not been past the second round since that last appearance, despite being a playoff regular.

Carter acknowledged the program’s postseason slump, but believes the 2024 Gators have what it takes to end it.

“I really feel good about it,” he said. “The guys are working hard. We’ve got a senior-led group. Day in, day out, they’re trying to get better. This is a special group. I’m hoping we can put some icing on the cake.”

• Saturday, 4 p.m.
Boys MHSAA Class 6A tournament, first round

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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