Natchez High School’s Zyaire Ewing muscles through West Jones defenders Christian Caraway, from left, Ashley Dickerson and MaRhonda Ratcliffe Monday night during the Lady Bulldogs’ 71-50 playoff win. (Ben Hillyer / the Natchez Democrat)
Natchez High School’s Zyaire Ewing muscles through West Jones defenders Christian Caraway, from left, Ashley Dickerson and MaRhonda Ratcliffe Monday night during the Lady Bulldogs’ 71-50 playoff win. (Ben Hillyer / the Natchez Democrat)

Natchez High girls advance in state playoffs

Published 11:33pm Monday, February 24, 2014

By Jake Martin
The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — After being lured into a fast-paced battle with West Jones in the MHSAA first round of the playoffs Monday night, Natchez relied on its play in the paint to defeat the Lady Mustangs 71-50.

Down 37-36 in the third quarter, Natchez head coach Alphaka Moore shouted to her team in a half-court offensive set: “Calm down, calm down!”

Her team responded. Relying on dominant play in the post, the Lady Bulldogs went on a 14-0 run, sprung by continuous field goal conversions from Rashanae Rice near the rim. Rice, who finished the game with 23 points, was aided by fellow forward Zyaire Ewing, who led the game with 24 points.

Moore said it was Ewing’s stoic demeanor on the court that gave her team tranquility, which transformed into confidence.

“She’s the most nonchalant person I’ve ever met in my life,” Moore said. “I went to her and she said, ‘I got it, Coach.’”

West Jones had three double-digit scorers in Keyana Keys, who led the Mustangs with 11, and Christian Caraway and Zandreka Ratcliffe, who each contributed 10.

Moore said great teams have the ability to coax opposing clubs to play the style that they want to evoke and that’s exactly what the Lady Mustangs were able to do early in the contest. Frustrated that her team was racing up and down the court with West Jones, Moore demanded her players to slow down and concentrate on their post play.

“(Natchez) started playing up-tempo with West Jones. They got excited and wanted to match their pace. We needed to slow it down,” Moore said.

To the delight of Moore, Natchez steered clear of foul trouble. Moore wanted her team to play with body control, for she knew fouls down the stretch could lead to a disastrous outcome.

“Yes, defense wins game, but games like this, fouls are so important,” Moore said.

When Natchez finally settled into its half court sets and worked the ball into the paint, the Lady Bulldogs outscored West Jones 22-6 in the third quarter, and an ensuing 15-point fourth quarter compared to a nine-point Lady Mustang output resulted in advancement in the playoffs.

Scouts from Grambling were in attendance to see Natchez’s Kiana Jones, who finished with six points. Moore said they left with interest of multiple Lady Bulldogs after seeing them in action.