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What a comeback: Natchez High boys rally to take down Vidalia, 67-63

Natchez High School’s Michael Morris celebrates after his team beat Vidalia High School 67-63. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Natchez High School’s Michael Morris celebrates after his team beat Vidalia High School 67-63. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

As the (9-4) Natchez Bulldogs started to mount a fourth quarter rally against the (9-7) Vidalia Vikings, fans of both teams inched closer and closer to the guardrails in Mary Jean Irving Memorial Gym Tuesday night.

Fans clung to the guardrails, squeezing tight and yelling as Natchez point guard Daryl Jones stepped to the line with less than a minute remaining in the game. His Bulldogs were up 62-59, after coming back from a 53-39 fourth quarter deficit. Minutes after finishing off a drive to the basket and giving his team its first lead since the second quarter, Jones let out a deep breath and followed through on his shot at the free throw line. Jones sunk the first free throw, causing Natchez fans to furiously stomp in the bleachers. After a second free throw, Natchez led 64-59, and would hold onto beat the Vikings 67-63.

“Vidalia and Natchez, it’s a war when these two teams play,” Natchez assistant coach David Haywood said. “I expected nothing less. We’ve been up big on them in passed years, and they’ve come back. We knew we could do it, but we just had to play hard.”

Before Jones iced the game with his ball handling and five made free throws in the final minutes, Dominique Mazique, Jardarius Ivory and Michael Morris cleaned up the boards in the fourth quarter and converted on put-backs.

“It was all momentum,” Morris said. “Coach called the right plays at the right time, and we just started running to the goal and got the rebound.”

Before Natchez made its comeback and outscored Vidalia 28-10 in the final period, Julius Wilson and the Vikings were in full control, running in transition with the pedal to the medal. Wilson, who led all scorers in the game with 25 points, pumped his arms in the air after a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the third quarter.

“Honestly, the fourth quarter got away from us,” Wilson said. “We need to work on finishing games. This is a rival for us, and we just really wanted to win. It was a heck of a game, but I wish we would have pulled it off.”

With a 29-24 lead to start the third, Vidalia separated itself from Natchez after the Vikings started beating the press and guards Wilson and Malik Jefferson started going coast to coast and setting up easy lay-in opportunities for Demarco Brown in the post. The Vikings struggled to beat the press against Neville, and Sanders was proud to see his team respond well against the press after continuously working on it at practice before the game.

“I wish the situation would have been reversed where we played Natchez first and Neville second, because Neville counts against our power rating,” Sanders said. “We worked on it a lot, and I was much pleased it tonight.”

But Brown, the Vikings’ main post threat who had 14 points in the game, suffered from foul trouble and had to sit on the bench in the fourth, opening the door for a furious Bulldog rally.

“If we can only keep him out of foul trouble, we would be much better,” Sanders said. “He has the best hands, best post moves, but we couldn’t keep him out there.”

Without Brown’s presence, Natchez dominated the boards in the fourth quarter, and after missing more free throws than they made in the first half, the Bulldogs converted from the line. Haywood said free throws and rebounding were the difference in the game.

“We missed a bunch this game, but we did make some big ones down the stretch,” Haywood said.

Mazique led the team with 17 points, while Jones contributed 16. Ivory scored 14 and Morris provided 11 in the win.