Bulldogs fall to West Jones in 1st round of Region 5-5A Tournament

Published 2:34 pm Wednesday, February 8, 2023

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LAUREL — Natchez High School’s varsity boys’ basketball team tried to overcome the loss of senior center/forward Elvis Jenkins, but once West Jones High School senior power forward got going, there was little the Bulldogs could do to stop him.

Loftin finished with a game-high 30 points to lead the No. 3 seed and host West Jones Mustangs to a stunning 63-58 upset win over the No. 2 seed Natchez High Bulldogs in the first round of the boys’ bracket of the 2023 MHSAA Region 5-5A Tournament.

“We were down one player, Elvis Jenkins. He’s a part of what we do on the inside on defense. Once they realized that we were down a man because he was under the weather, they put an emphasis on getting the ball inside,” Bulldogs head coach David Haywood said. “Once they realized we were down one of our top players, they took advantage of that.”

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But not in the early minutes of the game. Natchez High jumped out to an 8-0 lead, but Haywood noted it was not because the Bulldogs were playing defense. It was because West Jones was taking good shots, but not making them. Once those shots did get to fall, the momentum started to swing in favor of the Mustangs.

“First quarter, we came out and we were making our shots. We weren’t playing defense at all,” Haywood said. “We had opportunities to make plays. We just didn’t complete them.

The Mustangs finished the first quarter on a 12-7 run, but still trailed the Bulldogs 15-12 at the end of the quarter. The second quarter was when West Jones in general and Loftin in particular took over. His inside presence was too much for Natchez High to handle and the result was a 21-4 advantage for a 33-29 halftime lead.

Haywood described the third quarter, in which both teams scored 13 points to make it 46-42 game in favor of the Mustangs, as one that went back and forth between the two teams and one in which his team, at times, was a little too sloppy even when the Bulldogs would get an offensive rebound off a missed shot.

“We get up one, they make a shot and they would go up one. They get up one, we make a shot and go up one. We would get a rebound and get sloppy with the ball and they would make a shot in transition,” Haywood said. “We were just a stop or two away from taking control of the game.”

As for what happened in the second quarter, Haywood said, “Our defense was not rotating well and we were not guarding the ball. When No. 12 (Loftin) got the ball, he was having his way.”

One bright stop offensively in the first half was the play of Daylon Haywood and Javeon Walker. The two combined to score 18 of the Bulldogs’ 29 first-half points. Haywood led Natchez High with 15 points while Walker finished with nine points.

“Javeon and Daylon had a focus on playing the right way. Those guys, they were locked and focused on making shots,” coach Haywood said. “They forced West Jones out of their zone defense and into a man defense. When they did that, we had a chance to make shots, but we just didn’t. Javeon just didn’t get enough chances to take shots in the second half.”

Two other players for Natchez High scored in double figures. Presten Jackson ended up with 14 points while Kameron Carter added 10 points. The next leading scorer for West Jones was Cooper Kennedy with nine points.

The Bulldogs (16-8) will take on No. 4 seed Brookhaven High School in the boys’ third-place game at 5:30 p.m. Friday. They winner of that game advances to the first round of the MHSAA Class 5A South State Playoffs while the loser will have its season come to an end.

“It’s a do-or-die game. As a coach, I love those games. I loved them as a player,” Haywood said.

West Jones girls 51, Natchez High 19

LAUREL — The No. 4 seed Natchez High School Lady Bulldogs ran into a buzzsaw in the No. 1 seed and host West Jones High School Lady Mustangs in the first round in the girls’ bracket of the 2023 MHSAA Region 5-5A Tournament.

Even though Natchez High kept it as close as it could in a surprisingly low-scoring first half, West Jones used a dominant third quarter to give the Lady Mustangs a 51-19 win over the Lady Bulldogs last Tuesday night.

West Jones jumped out to an 11-4 lead over Natchez High at the end of the first quarter, but the Lady Mustangs bogged down offensively and only outscored the Lady Bulldogs 7-5 in the second quarter to go into halftime up just 18-9. 

However, any chances of the Lady Bulldogs pulling off what would have been a monumental upset over one of the top teams in all of Class 5A ended shortly after halftime. That’s when the Lady Mustangs took control and never let up as they put up 22 points in the third quarter while holding the Lady Bulldogs to just three points for a 40-2 lead.

Jaliyah Wright led Natchez High with eight points while Mikiah Proby had five points. Olivia Davis, who has been one of, if not the top scorer for the Lady Bulldogs this season, was held to just two points.

Meanwhile, West Jones was led in scoring by Halei Keyes with 15 points and Asia Wilson with 14 points.

The Lady Bulldogs (12-13) will take on No. 4 seed Florence High School at 4 p.m. Friday in the girls’ third-place game. The winner advances to the first round of the Class 5A South State Playoffs while the loser goes home for the offseason.