Wayne County rallies in second half to beat Natchez High in Class 5A 1st Round

Published 2:09 pm Monday, February 19, 2024

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WAYNESBORO — The Natchez High School Bulldogs gave Wayne County High School, one of the top teams in all of MHSAA Class 5A, all it could handle and then some. But in the end, the War Eagles rallied for a 41-34 win over the Bulldogs last Saturday night in the first round of the 2024 MHSAA Class 5A State Playoffs.

Natchez High, the No. 4 seed out of Region 3-5A appeared prime for what would have been a major upset thanks in large part to its defense. The Bulldogs led Region 4-5A No. 1 seed Wayne County 10-8 after one quarter of play and 24-19 by halftime.

“I think we started off the game very focused on defense. Our intensity level was really high,” Bulldogs head coach David Haywood said. “Our defensive effort early on led to some easy offensive opportunities and we were able to convert them.”

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Coming out of the half, Wayne County got away from its man-to-man defense and switched to what Haywood called a couple of different zone looks on defense, including a box-and-one. That forced Natchez High’s defense to bog down quite a bit.

“Second half, I think they stayed consistent. We kind of stalled on the offensive end,” Haywood said. “We had a couple of chances to score. We had a few turnovers, but we had some opportunities that we didn’t convert. A couple of easy ones went around the basket that could’ve took the air out of them.”

The War Eagles outscored the Bulldogs 12-7 in the third quarter to tie the game up at 31-all by the end of that quarter. And it was pretty much all Wayne County in the fourth quarter as it put up 10 points while holding Natchez High to a mere three points to advance to the quarterfinals and end the Bulldogs’ season.

Daylan Haywood led Natchez High with a game-high 22 points, but the next closest scorer was Keylan Smith with six points. In fact, only four Bulldogs ended up in the scoring column.

Haywood said that the difference in the number of free throws each team took in the second half was also a determining factor in the outcome of this game.

“We had just five free throws. I think the guys were aggressive on defense, but the fouls went against us. They probably took 15, 16 free throws, and they converted most of them. They were able to get to the line in the second half,” Haywood said.

Sadarrius Howard led Wayne County with 14 points and Zylan Harris chipped in with eight points.

The Bulldogs finished their season with an overall record of 14-14.