Bumpy stretch

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 31, 2004

Traveling on both U.S. 61 and 84, it’s simple to enjoy the ride due to many miles of four-lane highway.

However, Jefferson County’s basketball team’s recent stretch on the aforementioned roads has had them dodging uneven shoulders and unpatched holes around every curve.

Last Friday at this time, the Tigers boasted one Region 7-3A hiccup, had its whitewalls polished and full of air, and were ready to cruise into the 7-3A tournament at Hazlehurst as the No. 1 seed.

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As it heads for Liberty to face Amite County today, with games beginning at 5 p.m., the Tigers (10-13, 6-3) have fallen all the way to fourth, as the host Trojans (11-3, 5-1) uncomfortably reside as the 7-3A leader.

In a week’s time, Jefferson County has left Franklin County with a double overtime loss and, most recently, fell on the road to Wilkinson County, 53-52.

&uot;Tonight is very important to us, just so that we can get back onto the winning side,&uot; Tigers head coach Marcus Walton said. &uot;We’ve now gone on the road and dropped two close ball games. This district is evenly matched, and it’s going to come down to which team is the hottest. It’ll be the team that plays disciplined.&uot;

Jefferson County survived the first meeting between these two teams 58-46 on Jan. 9, despite the Trojans clinging to a one-point lead with 90 seconds left after back-to-back 3-pointers.

The Tigers end their four-game road trip at Hazlehurst on Tuesday before finishing region play with North Pike next Friday.

Walton said his players cannot afford to lose either of their final region games and thus risk entering the Feb. 17 tournament any lower a seed.

&uot;It’s going to be a dog fight because it came down to the wire the last time we played,&uot; he said of tonight. &uot;(Amite County’s) big guys cause matchup problems for everybody in this district. If we can control the boards and their guard play, we’ll have a chance. That’s a lot easier said than done, though.&uot;

Ferriday at Vidalia

With McCall riding high with its Class 2A No. 1 ranking and district lead, everybody else in 4-2A may possibly be playing for second.

That’s one of many reasons that make today’s cross-parish rivalry matchup so important. The Vikings and Trojans both share a 1-1 district record, with Ferriday coming off a disappointing 56-31 loss at Lake Providence on Tuesday, which sits a half-game back of McCall.

&uot;We didn’t play well at Lake Providence, and that was a game we needed to win,&uot; Trojans head coach James Davis said. &uot;The kids are going to be excited (for Vidalia). We need a win to get back to where we need to be in order to get in the playoff hunt.&uot;

Meanwhile, Vidalia bounced back from a loss to McCall last Friday with an 89-58 thumping of Crowville on Tuesday.

Ferriday could not buy a bucket on Tuesday, as the Trojans botched handfuls of layups and were very lethargic, Davis said.

The Panthers methodically pulled away against the Ferriday man defense, which the Trojans were forced to switch to after Lake Providence drained several 3-pointers in the face of the Ferriday zone.

A win would &uot;be huge right now. The kids are down after letting the game slip away,&uot; Davis said. &uot;They’ve got to be willing to play every night. You can’t be off against good teams. I’m not making excuses, but the bottom line was we weren’t ready to play&uot; on Tuesday.

AC at Jackson Prep

Rebel head coach John R. Gray was confident he had covered all he needed to for today’s District 2-AAA affair in Jackson.

However, after watching a few more roles of tape of Prep’s strengths and weaknesses, he realized on Thursday he had overlooked something.

However, what Gray saw, even the accomplished MPSA coach could not have prepared AC for.

&uot;The number of people they play is going to give us a hard time if we’re giving 100 percent with out six or seven,&uot; Gray said. &uot;We have to go against their 10 or 12. They’re great at denying the passing lanes. I don’t know if two days is enough to prepare them for a team that overplays passing so much.&uot;

The Rebels hold the district lead with a 6-1 record, albeit a bit deceiving, as both Prep and Central Private sit in second at 3-1.

Gray said fear that most teenagers crack when an overwhelming amount of pressure is placed on them is one factor why the Rebels are treating this game like any other.

&uot;Going to Prep and competing with them is a goal most schools have,&uot; he said. &uot;And in this area since basketball hasn’t been as big, it would mean a lot more, especially since we won two of four from them last year.&uot;

The Rebels must stay out of foul trouble and devise a scheme to bottle up Prep point guard Jo Jo Tann, while solving the depth issue, in order to leave 7-1 with their final district game at home against Central Private on Feb. 3.

&uot;We haven’t had a conditioning issue in a lot of our games this season,&uot; Gray said. &uot;If our endurance holds up until the fourth quarter, we’ll be in the ball game.

In other marquee games Cathedral visits rival St. Aloysius for an important Region 7-1A contest.

In the teams’ first meeting on Dec. 9, 2003, the Flashes ran it’s patented 2-2-1 halfcourt trap, which Cathedral never solved.

St. Al got a lot of easy buckets off Green Wave turnovers, as Cathedral was unable to get the ball to the middle of the floor in the 54-45 victory.

&uot;All district games are important, but we need to do get some road wins in the district to improve our seeding,&uot; said assistant coach Peter Arnold, whose team only boasts Pelahatchie as a road victim this season. &uot;St. Al is obviously a rivalry game for us, but truthfully it’s just another district game we need to win since we’re hosting the district tournament&uot; beginning Feb. 16.

On the girls’ side, Wilkinson County (13-7, 5-3) hosts North Pike (17-3, 4-3) in Region 7-3A action, which will help to determine third place.

The Lady Wildcats are looking for redemption after blowing an early 10-point lead to lose 47-46 in Summit on Jan. 9.

&uot;It’s kind of personal. The kids feel like we should’ve won that game,&uot; Wilkinson County head coach Edwin White said. &uot;We had a mental breakdown. We had a lot of turnovers, mistakes we don’t normally do. I’m not taking anything away from (North [Pike), but we blew a 15-point lead. There were things I could’ve done as better as a coach.&uot;