Natchez Lady Bulldogs fall at home for first time since 2012

Published 12:05 am Friday, November 13, 2015

Natchez High’s Larry Griffin converts a reverse layup while South Pike’s Antwon Tate tries to defend him. Natchez defeated South PIke 67-49 Thursday night in Mary Jean Irving Memorial Gym. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

Natchez High’s Larry Griffin converts a reverse layup while South Pike’s Antwon Tate tries to defend him. Natchez defeated South PIke 67-49 Thursday night in Mary Jean Irving Memorial Gym. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Ernesha Chatman pounded her chest after a second consecutive three-pointer in the opening minutes of the first quarter during the girls varsity basketball season opener. Two-time defending state champion Natchez Lady Bulldogs were back in action, but they were far from championship form.

While Chatman made plays on offense and defense, she also turned the ball over as the senior starting point guard, while simple mistakes by her teammates piled on, creating an upset opportunity for South Pike Thursday night. The Lady Eagles capitalized and defeated the Lady Bulldogs 50-45, stunning a packed house in Mary Jean Irving Memorial Gym.

The devastating loss marked the first time Natchez tasted defeat at home since 2012, and it also marked the team’s first loss since December 2014. Following the conclusion of the game, the Lady Bulldogs headed straight to the locker room and stayed for an hour, trying to cope with the loss.

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“They’re not used to losing,” Natchez head coach Alphaka Moore said. “You have to learn how to lose. I’m happy we lost this game. Sometimes you need to be humbled. This is that feeling that we felt last year when we lost to Brandon. We felt we couldn’t be touched. This is God letting us know that the road is going to be even harder, and you have to push through.”

The game started all too familiar for Natchez fans. Chatman connected on her first two three-point attempts and Dandy Dozen selection Zyaire Ewing drove the lane and dropped a finger roll to give Natchez an 8-3 advantage. The Lady Bulldogs went on an 8-0 run in the first quarter afterward, sparked by a Skylar Morgan three-point play before taking a 16-8 advantage into the second quarter. South Pike hung around.

The Lady Bulldogs scored just six points in the second quarter and eight points in the third before entering the fourth quarter tied at 30. The Lady Bulldogs stagnated on offense with multiple turnovers, while guards Chatman and Kirdis Clark suffered with foul trouble. Meanwhile Mariah Hurst and Tomia Mitchell converted easy lay-ins and jumpers to keep the game close.

“We have people that need to step up,” Moore said. “We have girls who started out as youngsters, and now, we have girls that need to lead the pack and be more vocal. It’s hard to tell them to push through when they feel like they’re the problem. Offensively and defensively, that’s just a lack of communication, and we’ll get that fixed.”

South Pike started to pull away in the fourth quarter. The Lady Eagles led for most of the period, and South Pike led 38-35 with 1:10 left to play in the quarter. Then, Clark, who struggled to connect from the three-point line all game and had to be taken out of the game in the third quarter because of cramps, found an open shot from the 3-point line and drilled the tying shot. Natchez forced a turnover on the other end and a half-court pass to Clark culminated in a three-point opportunity for the junior guard. Clark converted the free throw to give the Lady Bulldogs a 41-38 lead, but on the very next possession, Mitchell sunk a three-pointer to tie the game with 46 seconds left. The game stayed tied at 41 before entering overtime.

South Pike took an early 45-41 lead before Natchez tied it up with a Chatman drive to the hoop. Chatman led all scorers with 18.

On the other end, La’Dereka McNeil converted an easy bucket underneath the goal to give her team a 47-45 lead, and South Pike hit free throws the rest of the way to beat Natchez.

Moore said after the game the players felt like they let everyone in Natchez down.

“They have a lot of pressure,” Moore said. “If you look around tonight, there are more people in the stands than there has ever been at a girls game. They feel like everybody is putting so much on their back, so when they get out here and they can’t do something, they feel like a failure. It’s tough for them to focus when everybody is telling them you have to get a three-peat before they even play their first game.”

South Pike 49, Natchez 67 (boys)

David Haywood began his head coaching career at Natchez High School with a “W” after defeating South Pike 67-49.

The Mike Martin protégé said he incorporated a lot of what he learned under Martin as a player and a coach and used it Thursday night.

“I got back to those old ways,” Haywood said. “He made us work hard for everything, and that’s what we did. The players bought in and worked hard.”

Senior guard Ty’Ran Newman led the team with 18 points in the win, while junior forward Elijah Hill and sophomore guard Izer Catrell added 15. Catrell sliced his way to the basket by getting penetration on South Pike’s defense all night long.

“He’s real strong to the basket,” Haywood said. “You don’t get that out of sophomores too much. He doesn’t get going until he gets contact.”

Sophomore guard Taylor Chasley contributed with 13 points of his own in the win.

“These young guys haven’t even scratched the surface of basketball, but I really like this group,” Haywood said. “They like each other, and they get along so well you would think they’re all related.”