Natchez hosts Gulfport in South State

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 21, 2000

After capturing the Division 6-5A Tournament on its home floor last week for the first time since 1995, the Natchez High Bulldogs hope to get back to the South State 5A Tournament for the first time since 1997, when the Bulldogs lost at Gulfport.

Natchez hosts Gulfport today at 7 p.m. in a South State 5A first round contest. The Bulldogs (23-8) defeated Jim Hill 80-65 last week to win the Division 6-5A Tournament.

&uot;We’ve got to play hard,&uot; said Natchez junior Jamal Bouldin. &uot;We have to be more focused and do a better job of passing the ball. Everybody has to raise their game.&uot;

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Gulfport, 18-13, lost to No. 1 Harrison Central in the finals of the Division 8-5A Tournament.

&uot;By our standards this has been a down year,&uot; said Gulfport head coach Bryan Caldwell. &uot;The last three years we have won 77 games. This is the first year we failed to win 20 games (in the regular season) since 1985.&uot;

Caldwell lost 10 players from last year’s team which went 25-8, losing to Biloxi at South State last year.

&uot;I think we have gotten better, especially over the last two or three weeks,&uot; Caldwell said.

The Admirals are led by Freeman Taylor, a 6-foot-5 senior center who is averaging 15.1 points a game.

Freeman is the younger brother of Syniker Taylor, an all-state football and basketball player last year who played running back for the University of Florida this past fall.

&uot;We play about nine or 10 guys every game,&uot; Caldwell said. &uot;We’ve had about nine different starting lineups and spent most of the year searching for a starting lineup. We’ve settled on something the last two or three weeks.&uot;

Caldwell said he believes the Admirals have benefitted from a tough schedule.

&uot;I think the thing that helps us more than anything is that we are battle-tested,&uot; he said. &uot;We’ve had to grow up in a hurry. Four of our losses were to Harrison Central and we led them twice at halftime. We lost twice to Biloxi, so we haven’t been losing to Little Sisters of the Poor. We’ve played a lot of big games and that should help up.&uot;

Caldwell said it will take one of his team’s best efforts against Natchez.

&uot;It’s a typical Mike Martin team they are very well coached and fundamentally sound,&uot; Caldwell said. &uot;I’m real impressed with (David) Haywood. He looks like one of the best players we’ll see this year. Their team seems to do everything pretty well.&uot;

The winner of today’s game faces the winner of the Wayne County-Biloxi game Friday in the South State 5A Tournament at Harrison Central.

In other South State 5A games, Harrison Central hosts Jim Hill and Pascagoula is at Meridian.

The top three teams advance to state.