Bulldogs rally in fourth for win as Natchez splits with Gators

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; There’s always reason to celebrate a first.

This time, however, the first brings another meaning for Natchez High’s boys. A come-from-behind 45-41 win over Vicksburg marked a new beginning of sorts for a budding Bulldogs team by downing the defending state champion Gators to open Division 6-5A play on Tuesday.

&uot;It’s a real big win going into district play,&uot; Natchez guard DaMorris Merrick said. &uot;Last year we didn’t have but one, but now we got our first district win this year. We’ll all still meshing and trying to get as one team and one heartbeat.&uot;

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The win may go a ways in doing so, especially after the Bulldogs have been up and down this season with a number of players suiting up for both junior varsity and varsity contests with head coach Mike Martin bringing up the younger players.

So enter guys like Jeremy Houston, a good-sized sophomore who poured in 17 points to lead the Bulldogs. There was also little guard Tryon Wilson, who had a huge defensive play late in the fourth quarter that kept the momentum on the Bulldogs’ side.

Both &045; along with Merrick and others &045; helped to turn a 12-point deficit on its ear in the fourth thanks to a 13-2 run in the final quarter.

&uot;They were one of the best teams we’ve played,&uot; Houston said. &uot;They’re the defending state champs. I’ve been playing a good bit since the start of the season &045; since the Wilkinson County game (Nov. 13). It took me a while to get a feel, but it’s been comfortable. Just trying to take good shots. Coach told me not to force it.&uot;

The Bulldogs (4-5, 1-0) got a push from Houston in the third quarter after the Bulldogs came out slow as he scored nine of his points in that quarter. The Bulldogs were able to cut the lead to 39-32 heading into the fourth quarter before picking it up at the start.

Two straight baskets from Michael Chatman came on the heels of a huge 3-pointer from Jeffery Thomas with 6:18 left to tie the game up at 39-39.

&uot;That’s been our Achilles heel all year long,&uot; Vicksburg head coach Dellie Robinson said. &uot;We didn’t execute coming down the stretch. We turned the ball over. We lost an 18-point lead to Warren Central, and we had a 14-point lead on Forest Hill. Just going down the stretch we can’t get it done.&uot;

The Gators (5-6, 0-1) answered with a bucket from Sederick Williams &045; who burned the Bulldogs with three 3-pointers in the second quarter &045; to take a two-point lead, but a bucket from Charles Cothern inside tied it back up with 4:16 left.

Then on a missed Vicksburg shot the Bulldogs got the rebound and tossed to a streaking Merrick down the floor, who tossed in a layup with 2:54 left for a 43-41 lead.

If that wasn’t enough, on the Gators’ next possession Williams was called for a five-second violation while being guarded by Wilson to turn the ball over. The Bulldogs slowed it down on their next possession and took a minute off the clock before Greg Purnell scored with 1:35 left for the 45-41 lead.

&uot;Coach told us to come out with more energy,&uot; Merrick said. &uot;It was a big difference (from the first half). At first we were kind of sluggish, and at halftime we picked up the intensity. When we picked up the intensity, we took the lead. We had to get something to stop them, and Tryon stepped up the defense.&uot;

The Gators didn’t have trouble executing earlier in the contest and had a good inside-outside combination working. They took a 27-21 lead heading into halftime and started the second half strong with an 8-2 run to put the lead in double digits.

Williams hit a bucket to spark the run, and a basket from Walter Beamon with 4:22 left put the lead at 33-21.

&uot;We lost a good bit from last year, but we’ve still got enough talent to win,&uot; Robinson said. &uot;They kind of took Sederick from us, and we kind of struggled after that.&uot;

Williams finished with 17 points, tying with Houston for the game high.

&uot;Coach just told us we can’t let him score,&uot; Houston said. &uot;We just had to play tough.&uot;

Vicksburg girls 38, NHS 34

Through the back-and-forth nature of this contest, there may be one thing both sides can agree on &045; division play came way too early.

Neither side could really say they played well, but fortunately for the Missy Gators they withstood some pressure in the second half and held on for the win. The Lady Bulldogs (2-5, 0-1) cut the lead to one heading into the fourth quarter but couldn’t get over the hump.

&uot;They made a good run at us,&uot; Vicksburg head coach Mike Coleman said. &uot;Natchez has a good, quick young team. I feel like we’re starting turning it over because we’re a little young, too. We’re playing a lot of sophomores. We got lucky and won it. It wasn’t anything we did, I don’t think. It was a helter-skelter game the whole night.&uot;

Fortunately for the Missy Gators the Lady Bulldogs missed 14 free throws in the contest, including four in the fourth quarter. The Missy Gators took a four-point lead three minutes into the fourth quarter before CreTarsha Taylor drained a 3-pointer with 5:03 left for a 35-27 lead.

The Lad Bulldogs got on the board with 4:32 left when Mable Green converted a three-point play to trim the score to 35-30, but Vicksburg answered with a bucket from Kristin Ellis to put the lead back to seven.

&uot;One thing was we had so many opportunities,&uot; NHS assistant Steve McClatchey said. &uot;We had three or four shots right under the goal. We had opportunities, but we could not capitalize on them. With this being a division ball game, we had enough talent to beat that team. They weren’t a real strong team. But you can’t go back and get it. Now they’re one up on you.&uot;