Natchez girls prepare for state while Vidalia boys look to future
By Reina Kempt & Jake Martin
NATCHEZ — The Natchez High School Lady Bulldogs came out of the MHSAA Class 5A South State tournament on a high note.
They won an automatic bid into the state tournament with a win against Pascagoula High School Friday, but made sure they would be the No. 1 seed with a big win against South Jones High School for the South State championship Saturday.
It was a hard fought, low scoring 34-30 victory as the Lady Bulldogs struggled offensively, but poise, leadership and defense led them to a win against a team that beat them earlier in the season.
Head coach Alphaka Moore trusted in senior Marquita Wallace to shut down South Jones’ star player Kaylen Phillips, who was limited to five points.
“She is big in stature and she is an inside person, so if she can contain one on defense, keep her off the boards yet get boards on offense, we knew she would help us,” Moore said.
Ernesha Chatman also stepped up for the Lady Bulldogs when they needed her the most. The point guard struggled offensively throughout the tournament, but took the game into her own hands in the last two minutes of regulation.
Chatman hit three of four free throws to lift Natchez past South Jones 34-30.
Wallace said she was proud of the way the sophomore stepped up in a crucial moment.
“I was proud of her because she is someone that stepped up when it was her time,” Wallace said. “She showed up for us.”
Moore said she had confidence in Chatman as well as the rest of the team because of the faith they put in themselves.
“We pray before every game, and you can’t pray and not believe in what you’re praying,” Moore said. “If you say it’s what you’re going to do, then it’s what you better do.”
With the win, the Lady Bulldogs will rest up for a week before heading to the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
Moore said getting the upset against South Jones would set them up for success early.
“It’s a good thing going in (to be the No. 1 seed) because we will play an easier team going from the North,” Moore said. “It also gives us a little pep going into the tournament.”
The Lady Bulldogs will play at 1 p.m. March 10 against a team that has yet to be determined.
Brusly 56, Vidalia 48
Vidalia — Vidalia head coach Robert Sanders is hopeful those who will return to the court in a Vikings uniform next school year learn from a 56-48 first round playoff loss to Brusly Friday night.
Learning from an early exit in the playoffs is exactly what his 2010 state championship winning team did after No. 9 seed Vidalia lost to No. 24 seeded Winnfield 48-47 in the opening round of the Class 3A playoffs in 2008. Then sophomores Gary Stewart and Torrey Dixon would go on to earn All-State honors and lead Vidalia to the state championship two years later.
“They bounced back and went to state both times after that loss, and I believe we can do that too,” Sanders said.
Isiah Thompson, who led the Vikings in scoring this season with 19.4 points per game, played his last game in a Viking uniform Friday night, as did Deion Brown and Martel Wiley, who played critical minutes throughout the season. Other than those three contributing seniors, the Vikings had a fairly young squad, with sophomore Julius Wilson returning as the second-leading scorer.
“I tried to tell the seniors that I’m sorry it had to end this way, and to the ones that are coming back, I told them to use it as a learning experience,” Sanders said.
Freshman Demarco Brown came on strong toward the end of the year and earned a starting position, while sophomore Curtis McNulty started for most of the season at forward, potentially giving Vidalia something it hasn’t had since the days of Stewart and Dixon—an experienced frontcourt. Players like Jonterrius Townsend, who Sanders subbed in to try and counter Brusly’s athleticism Friday night, will be a helping hand on the low block next season.
“If this group stays together, I think we’ll be fine,” Sanders said. “They’re already talking about next year.”