Jefferson County lands in 7-3A finals with win

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 13, 2003

MEADVILLE &045; The old saying &uot;patience is a virtue&uot; is often beat into the ground, especially in the wide circle of athletics.

Most players and coaches have it filed high in their vocabulary and, at times, use it inappropriately.

But not Thursday night at the division 7-3A tournament at Franklin County, where Jefferson County (14-11) did not rush things against the matchup zone defense Amite County threw at them.

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The Tigers, on the strength of big man Juan Wyatt, got out early and never looked back in a wire-to-wire, 45-37, victory to advance to today’s tournament championship against Hazlehurst at 7:30 p.m.

&uot;I came out strong early, everybody had their heads on straight and we really wanted it,&uot; said Wyatt, who finished with a game-high 24 points. &uot;We played some hard-nosed defense and stayed disciplined. We’re just striving for the top.&uot;

Some teams understand what the postseason is about. The emotional swings from game-to-game. The win or go home mentality you must adopt in order to capture a state title.

The Tigers, last season’s South State champions and state champion semifinalists, get that.

Whatever happened in its rocky regular season, where at times fingers were pointed because of losses, it is all in the past.

&uot;That’s a compliment to our kids. They showed heart and determination and discipline,&uot; Jefferson County head coach Marcus Walton said &uot;It’s a credit to them for all their hard work that we are finally where we are supposed to be.&uot;

The fifth-seeded Tigers opened the game on a 10-0 run against No. 1 seed Amite County and never relinquished the lead.

The closest the Trojans got in the game was five points, 11-6, when Johnathan Melson put back a missed 3-point attempt with 1:41 to play in the first period.

In the second half, the news wasn’t any better. Amite County, who trailed by as many as 13, closed within seven points three times in the fourth period, but never managed to threaten the Tigers.

&uot;We weren’t focused and ready mentally for the game,&uot; Trojans’ head coach Earnest Ray said. &uot;You can’t play like that if you want to play for a championship. I told them yesterday the season now started at 0-0 and they were going to have to make less mistakes.&uot;

Something Jefferson County exemplified. The Tigers, on most possessions, took time off the clock, did not hurry passes and worked everything toward the goal with Wyatt as the objective.

Wyatt broke out the repertoire with baby hooks, turnaround jumpers, an explosive layup where he began his charge from the 3-point arc and an one-handed facial dunk with 1:04 left in the first half for a 27-15 lead.

The 6-foot-8 senior snowballed his offensive effort into defensive success as well with a couple of blocks, including one just before the first-half buzzer sounded to keep his team’s lead at 10, 27-17.

&uot;The beginning of this year I started kind of slow, but I’ve been gradually picking it up,&uot; Wyatt said. &uot;I want to win. A state championship is something you’ll always remember, and we’re trying to bring that to our school.&uot;