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Natchez girls get serious, focus on defending title in playoffs

Natchez head coach Alphaka Moore warns her players not to take their next opponent lightly at practice Monday. Natchez will host Wayne County at 7 p.m. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Natchez head coach Alphaka Moore warns her players not to take their next opponent lightly at practice Monday. Natchez will host Wayne County at 7 p.m. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — As the scoreboard clock counted down to zero, signaling the start of practice for the (19-1) Natchez Lady Bulldogs, the team ran out of the locker room, laughing and grinning from ear to ear. Natchez head coach Alphaka Moore greeted the team with a stern look, staring them down and erasing the smiles as the buzzer sounded.

Without having to say a word, Moore sent the message to her team — it’s time to get serious.

“It’s always business,” later said Moore, describing the serious tone at practice.

And when the team began preparation for Friday’s home playoff matchup against Wayne County, Moore interrupted a drill the Lady Bulldogs do on a regular basis, rectifying the simple mistakes her team was making.

“I’m seeing a lot of missed layups,” Moore said. “In my opinion, I think y’all think y’all have already won. Stop playing around.”

The Lady Bulldogs, who won the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A State Championship in 2014, responded and would go on to execute their drills without any silliness whatsoever. It was a tone shift from the sometimes fun but always-serious environment Moore provides for her team.

“I always try to find ways to make them laugh, but at this point, I don’t care,” said Moore, reiterating how important execution is before playoffs. “It’s all or nothing. It’s like a family. We have to depend on each other, because everybody is in your ear talking about repeating. They say, ‘We’ll see y’all in Jackson,’ but you have to get there first.”

The team expects nothing different. Junior guard Ernesha Chatman anticipated a hard practice Monday, as she admitted the team has to avoid being complacent like the Lady Bulldogs were at certain points during the season. Expecting to cruise by their opponent wasn’t a mentality her and her teammates shared as they hustled up and down the court Monday.

“Regular season, sometimes we would kind of ease on by, but when it comes to playoffs, we practice harder because we know the teams are coming at us,” Chatman said.

Junior forward Zyaire Ewing, who is leading the team with 16.8 points per game, said though the team is familiar with a lot of Wayne County’s players through playing them over the years, Natchez is determined to take care of business, and avoid an upset at all costs.

“Of course, we can’t go in underestimating them,” Ewing said. “We have to play them like we never played them before.”

With Wayne County coming to town, Natchez will likely have its hands full against a team that is 19-6 on the season. But Natchez hasn’t lost in the past two months, since losing to Brandon High School, and Moore is anticipating near flawless execution from her team when they take the court at 7 p.m. Friday in Mary Jean Irving Memorial Gym.

“It doesn’t matter about the opponent — whether good or bad, but it’s just all about the mindset of your team and being able to control yourself in that game,” Moore said.

Ewing echoed those statements, and summed up the team’s mentality ahead of the matchup in one statement — “You win or you’re done.”