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By RUSSELL TURNER
Both Greene County High School basketball teams are hoping for a little magic as their post-seasons get underway this week in Poplarville. And, for the GCHS boys, Monday’s matchup against Sumrall in the Region 7-4A Tournament’s first round was just the type of magic they were looking for.
Senior Jared Nicholson’s eighteenth double-double of the season could not have come at a better time as the Wildcats were locked in a back-and-forth battle with the Bobcats through regulation and into overtime. Sumrall overcame a 5-point deficit in the fourth quarter, but it was the Cats that pulled away in overtime to claim a 51-48 win and keep their season alive.
Greene County shot 42 percent from the field overall, but hit 6-of-17 3-point tries (35 percent) and 13-of-16 shots from the charity stripe (81 percent). Nicholson led the way for GCHS in both categories, hitting 70 percent of his shots from the field and 9-of-10 free throw attempts. He also pulled down a team-high 14 rebounds, including 11 on the defensive end.
Senior Darrell Johnson just missed a double-double of his own with 10 points and had nine rebounds. Junior Jacob Thurman hit 4-of-6 shots from behind the arc and finished with 14 points. Senior Tyler Avera’s three points and junior Anthony Calhoun’s one rounded out the scoring for the Cats.
The Wildcats will advance to Thursday’s second round and are set for a matchup with No. 1 seed Forrest County AHS. The Aggies drew a bye through the first round and enter the matchup with a record of 19-7 overall and a 9-1 record against region foes. However, while they won both previous matchups with GCHS this season, both games were tight to the last whistle. Wildcat head coach Phillip Ricks hopes the third time will be the charm for GHCS when the two square off at 5:30 at Poplarville High School.
“I really feel good about the way we have been shooting the ball from the outside,” Ricks said Wednesday afternoon. “A few things beat us the last time (against FCAHS), but hopefully we have fixed that.”
The Wildcats matched up with Sumrall in the tourney opener after dropping to 5-5 in region play and into fourth place in the region standings after a loss to Poplarville last week. Senior Jared Nicholson put up 17 points to lead GCHS and also pulled down a team-high seven rebounds in that loss. Senior Tyler Avera hit three 3-pointers to finish second in scoring for the Cats.
The Wildcats followed that loss with a disappointing showing at George County on Friday. Nicholson was held to three points in that matchup, but junior Jacob Thurman and senior Darrell Johnson filled the void, combining for 37 points. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough as the Rebels cruised to a 61-47 win. Johnson led the Wildcats with 21 points and eight rebounds. Thurman hit four 3-pointers and finished with 16 points.
But, those two losses were left in the rear view mirror with Tuesday’s exciting win over Sumrall. Coach Phillip Ricks is hopeful his team can use the momentum from that win to keep the GCHS season and hopes for a tournament title alive.
Lady Wildcats looking to prove a point in tourney
The GCHS Lady Wildcats lost one region game in the regular season, but the point differential in that lone setback kept them from claiming the region’s regular season championship. Their plans to correct that issue with a region tournament championship will get underway Thursday afternoon when they kick off the postseason in Poplarville.
The Lady Cats will play the winner of Tuesday’s Purvis – Forrest County AHS matchup at 4:15 Thursday. They will enter that contest riding a 10-game win streak after convincing wins over Poplarville and George County last week. And, head coach Dale Kimble thinks they will likely have a bit of a chip on their shoulders when they hit the court.
“They understood what they had to do to win the regular season, accepted the challenge and did all they could do (after the loss to eventual No. 1 seed Lawrence County on Jan. 4),” Kimble said. “They have the opportunity to go win this tournament and prove they are the best team in the region.”
Since suffering the setback to Lawrence County in their first game back after the Christmas break, GCHS posted 10 straight wins with an average margin of victory above 15 points per game. During that stretch they have had an average of eight players per game getting in on the scoring.
“Hopefully, having that type of production throughout the lineup makes it hard for opposing teams to prepare for us,” Kimble added. “I am proud of the way the team has embodied the team approach this season. They play well together and have good chemistry and they don’t worry about who is getting the most shots. It is all about who is open and is in the best position to score.”
GCHS finished the regular season with a 44-19 drubbing of rival George County on Friday. The Lady Cats got off to somewhat of a slow start, but stretched the lead to 10 at halftime. They dominated defensively in the final two periods, allowing the Lady Rebels just seven total points in the second half. Ten different Wildcats scored in the game with junior Bre Brown leading the way with 10 points and eight rebounds for GCHS. Junior Destiny Eubanks and sophomore Serenity Blakely added eight points apiece. Blakely also led the team with five steals, while seniors Sha Sha Winborn and Nykeria Bolton added four steals apiece.
Against Poplarville on Tuesday, Brown once again paced the Lady Cats, putting up 14 points and pulling down eight rebounds, including seven on the defensive end. Winborn was solid with 12 points, six rebounds and four steals. Eubanks followed closely with 11 points and Bolton added eight.