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By RUSSELL TURNER / Herald Editor
The holiday break does not seem to have had a negative impact on the Greene County men’s basketball team as the Wildcats continued their strong play on the hardcourt three straight wins to start the new year, including two key region wins over Bay High and Poplarville.
The Wildcats’ 69-29 win over the winless Hornets at home on Tuesday pushed them to 3-0 in Region 8-4A and sets up a primetime matchup at home on Friday against the Pass Christian Pirates, who are also 12-7 on the season and unbeaten (2-0) in the region.
“This is a huge game,” GCHS Head Coach Brance Crane said. “You have to take care of business at home in region play.”
“This is our first matchup with another unbeaten team in the region. We knew what we had coming back this season and what Pass had coming back, so we had this game circled so to speak for some time. It should be a fun one.”
GCHS returned to action last Thursday at Long Beach and posted an impressive 20-point win over the 6A Bearcats, then followed that up with an 18-point blowout of the Tigers the following night. In both of those matchups, the Wildcats got off to a bit of a sluggish start before rallying for the blowout wins. That was not the case on Tuesday, as GCHS raced out to a 12-point lead after the first quarter and went into halftime up 49-20.
“We got off to a bit of a slow start (at Long Beach),” Crane said. “We were pretty rusty coming off the break, which is why I wanted to play a non-region game before taking on Bay High.”
“We turned it on in the second half and played much better. Against Bay, I thought we did a good job defensively of getting stops when our offense wasn’t clicking. It was a great team win.”
Junior forward Yabarrai Bolton led the Cats with a combined 34 points and 12 rebounds against the Bearcats and Tigers. His classmate Tylan Blackston followed with 23 points in the two wins.
Sophomores Jase Mathews just missed back-to-back double-doubles, with 11 points and a game-high 12 rebounds against Long Beach and 10 points and eight rebounds against Bay. Sophomore Braedon Spivery each finished with 11 points. added three assists and three blocks. Spivery had 11 points and led the team with eight assists against Long Beach, along with five rebounds and three steals.
Cordarius Molten finished with eight rebounds and three assists against Bay. He had just two points in that matchup, but on Tuesday the sophomore showed his scoring potential as he led the team with 21 points in just 16 minutes of play. Molten was 3-of-5 from behind the 3-point line and 6-of-7 from inside the arc.
Spivery suffered a minor injury early in the game at Bay High and did not play against Poplarville. However, each of the 15 of other Wildcats who were dressed out did get solid time on the court. Blackston and Bolton made the most of their time on the floor, combining for 24 points.
Spivery is expected to be back for Friday’s matchup and Crane’s team got a little boost after the holiday with the return of senior Brycen ‘B.J.’ Johnson, who missed the first half of the season recovering from a nagging injury sustained during football season. Johnson has totaled six points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and seven steals during limited minutes off the bench since returning. Working him back into the mix with a lineup that has been quite effective thus far will be the key for Crane’s team as the Cats look to compete for a region title. Expect his minutes to go up considerably starting this Friday.
“You can tell having BJ back calmed the team down when things got frantic,” Crane said. “That is a big part of what he brings to the table as a senior leader.”
“Our goal is to keep working him 10-12 minutes until Friday when we host Pass Christian. That will be a big region game.”
Lady Wildcats score big win over Poplarville
On the girls’ side, the Lady Wildcats also have a lot riding on Friday’s visit by Pass Christian as GCHS and Lady Pirates will each enter the game at 2-1 in region play and needing a win to stay close to Bay High at the top of the standings.
The Lady Cats did not have as long of a break from the court as the GCHS men’s team as they participated in a holiday tournament on the Coast. Coach Dale Kimble’s team took a couple on the chin with losses to 7A programs from D’Iberville and Biloxi, but followed up with a win at Long Beach. Unfortunately as slow start against the region-leading Lady Tigers led to a tough loss at Bay St. Louis last week.
That wasn’t the case on Tuesday as the Lady Cats jumped out to a 5-point lead after the first eight minutes and never trailed after that. They outscored the visitors by 10 in the second period and kept up the pressure in the second half to claim a 59-37 win over Poplarville.
Sophomores Rakhiya Moody and Zamiah Knight led the way. Moody finished with 18 pints, five rebounds, four assists and six steals, while Knight had 17 points, three rebounds and three steals.
Sophomore Kambrie Lawrence had a balanced showing, putting in eight points and pulling down a team-high eight rebounds.
Moody and senior ShaNya McLeod led GCHS in scoring against Long Beach with 15 and 14 points, respectively. Moody also had a team-high six steals, while McLeod added three assists and three steals.
Sophomore Lilly Rau put up three points and led her team with 12 rebounds. Knight added eight points, three assists and five steals, while Junior Saniah McCormick had a big game off the bench, logging three points and five key rebounds in 14 minutes of play.
Against Bay, the Lady Cats trailed by 15 at the half. While they outscored Bay in the final two periods, it wasn’t enough as the Lady Tigers claimed the 44-31 win to take sole possession of the region standings at 3-0 thus far.
Moody had the hot shooting hand from behind the arc in that loss. She made 4-of-6 3-pointers to finish with 19 points. But, McLeod’s four points were the second highest for GCHS.
“I am proud of the way this team battles, but we just missed too many opportunities and made too many turnovers and mistakes against a good team,” Kimble said. “We will work to correct those issues and get ready for the next challenge.”