Lady Bulldogs have to set the tempo early

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 8, 1999

Natchez High girls basketball coach Mary Irving knew there was no way around a tough Class 5A South State opening playoff game, not with No. 7 Meridian facing No. 2 Murrah for the Division 5-5A championship.

While Natchez (20-11) breezed through its competition to win the Division 6-5A Tournament, Meridian lost to Murrah to force the Lady Wildcats to travel to Natchez today in a playoff contest.

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Natchez High.

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&uot;We knew we would be in for a tough first-round game,&uot; Irving said. &uot;Meridian was strong last year and only lost one starter.&uot;

Natchez won its South State opener at Pascagoula last year, but lost to Provine and Meridian in the South State Tournament.

The winner of today’s game advances to the South State Tournament at Jackson Murrah.

Natchez went unbeaten in its division competition and defeated Jim Hill 53-40 in the title game on the Lady Tigers’ home court.

&uot;We’ll need that determination and focus because if we lose Monday, that’s it,&uot; Irving said. &uot;We played well, especially in the fourth quarter in the tournament. They played Erica (Bennett) tight inside, so we had to rely on our outside people. They knew they had to hustle, they got some steals and layups and really played together.&uot;

The top three teams at South State advance to the state tournament in Jackson. Natchez hasn’t been to the state tournament since winning the whole thing in 1993.

Irving said it will be important for the Lady Bulldogs to set the tempo early.

&uot;Definitely against Meridian we’ll have to get off to a good start,&uot; Irving said. &uot;We can’t lag behind and let them get a lead on us. We have to try and take control from the beginning.&uot;

Irving said the team practiced well on Saturday.

&uot;The girls are excited and high-spirited, so we’re hoping to take that into Monday,&uot; she said. &uot;I think the fact we lost at South State last year has the girls focused. They want to make it back and go beyond. Coach (Sue) Johnson and I have been emphasizing to them about how it feels to play at the state tournament.&uot;

Admission to the game is $4.