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Schools gearing up for magical second half

December 22, 2011

West Point
The Green Wave closed out the first half the season with a pair losses and a losing record.
At, 5-9, several of those losses came at the hands of some of the most talented teams in the state in including Tupelo twice (once in OT), Kemper County and Starkville twice, then ranked no.1 in the state. They’ve gotten off to an ideal start in the region, earning their first victory over Saltillo.
But head coach Brad Cox knows they haven’t hit their peek yet and still trying to get all the pieces in the right spots.
“We’re still trying to gel,” he said. “We have four kids that transferred from other schools, we have a senior that hasn’t played before and four 10th graders. The team hasn’t been together that long, so we’re still trying to find that rotation and that chemistry.”
Averaging over 60-points a game, the offense has shown they can score points. Daryl Thomas and Cortez Malone average double figures and have really provided a spark offensively. In their last victory over Saltillo, West Point had five players in double figures for the first time this season. The defense has been improving as well.
“It’s looking very good right here at Christmas,” Cox said. “We’ve been doing a very good job of rebounding. Early in the season we were scoring well, but we’ve had trouble the last two games. Hopefully over this break, we’ll rest and find some energy and hopefully put it all back together.”
The boys return to action in the new year, January 3 in Louisville.
Under first year head coach Murray Woody, the West Point girls team has shown they can play with anybody, and 6-8 it’s hardly a disappointment.
The girls have three players averaging double figures in Wilma Davis, Taylor McCrary and Adriana Billups, all seniors. Nekeisha Walker is also one of the teams top scorers night in and night out with nearly 10-points a game.
Since earning their first region win, the girls have lost two straight after slow starts. Woody says that’s something they need to work on before they return to the court January 3.
“We need to do two things,” he explained. “We need to get ourselves mentally ready to start a ball game, and execute on man-to-man offense. We’re more athletic than most of the teams that we’ve played, but against the teams that are just as athletic, we’re going to have to sit back in the half court, execute a set and score that way.”
Numerous times the girls have transitioned well on the fast breaks and have really kept their opponents on their heels with their athleticism. But it’s hard for a team to be one dimensional. Murray says he’s satisfied with the first half of the season.
“I am,” he said. “With the exception of the games with Neshoba, and the first two games with Starkville and Tupleo, all of the other losses have been by single digits. Those games could have gone either way. It’s where I’d like to be record wise, but we’re gelling and we can see what we can work on.”

Hebron
Lady Eagles head coach William Cotton is pretty satisfied with how the girls have started the 2011-12 season.
The reigning district 3A champions have a winning record at 9-6, but Cotton said there’s always room for improvement. Four of those losses have come from MAIS AA or AAA schools in what’s been pretty rough non-conference schedule early on.
“We scheduled the first half to be much more difficult than the second half,” he said. “And I see our play improving when we open back up against Single A competition.”
The girls return to the hardwood December 27 and 28 at the holiday tournament hosted by Immanuel Christian. But after that, they open the second half with Heritage and Winston at home, the split those two games earlier this season.
Tori Nichols has continued to be a dominant presence on the court, knocking down 20-plus points almost every night. Normally when she’s having a good game, so will the Lady Eagles, who have won a seas-high five in row which ended in a loss to East Webster.
Cotton believes once they get through the first few hurdles, they could potentially pull off 10-12 wins heading into February.
“Hopefully playing this tough schedule will get us ready for what we have to face in the playoffs,” he said. “The second half is much easier than the first, but we can still get beat if we don’t come to play. I think we can answer the call.”
Several times this season the Eagles have gotten some ugly wins. Victories nonetheless, and what head coach Tri Nason describes as “better than pretty losses”.
Hebron has had a tough time staying consistent, winning two in a row and then dropping a pair. But sitting at 7-6, and heading into the bulk of district play, they have been able to make some comebacks and find a way to win, much like their latest victory over Starkville Christian.
“It was a good win to head into Christmas with,” Nason said. “Everything was set up perfect for us to lose with our minds being ready to get out of school for Christmas but they rose past that and took care of business.”
Prior to the start of the season, Nason said their success was going to have to be a complete team effort, and so far it has with a different player stepping up each night - Will Corben Rogers, Ben Pearson or Hayden Carty.
The Eagles will look to string together a few more wins in a row, hopefully that will give them a little extra push down the stretch and enough momentum to take them into the postseason once again.

Oak Hill
The Lady Raiders success this season hasn’t been just their ability to gets wins, but also playing sound defense. Three times this season they have held teams to less than 20-points. Not only that, but they have been clutch at the free-throw line as well.
At 13-4, the girls are a perfect 4-0 in district 2AA play and right now, would be the number one contender and probably the favorite to win their third consecutive district title.
Of those four losses, head coach Stan Hughey believes the only true loss was to North Delta. But he’s still pleased with where they are at this point.
“I’m happy with how we’re progressing we just have to come back after Christmas and get that going,” he said. “After winning against Leake and playing well against Manchester, I know we need a break but you hate to get a break right now because we’re playing so good.”
Oak Hill had a season-high seven game winning streak snapped in an overtime loss to Starkville Academy in November and have since won six of the last eight ball games including all four district contests. So far this season, Oak Hill is 1-1 in extra time.
Tori Ellis has been the been the girls leading scorer thus far this season averaging almost double figures a game, but she hasn’t been the only to get hot at the right time with Rachel Herndon, Shay Atkins, Maegen Ellis and Anna Ready stepping up when they need to.
After Christmas, the Lady Raiders return to the court December 27-28 to play in the Carroll Academy Christmas tournament to play Desoto and Benton.
“It doesn’t matter what you do before Christmas, it’s what you do after,” Hughey said.
The Raiders have finally found a little spark after an inconsistent start to the year. The boys have won a season-high four consecutive games after picking up two big district victories over Leake and Manchester on the road last week. It was the second time this season the Raiders had won at least three games.
“I think in this district it’s going to be hard to get any wins on the road,” head coach Brian Middleton said. “And for us to get one there it was big.”
After picking up such a good pace heading into the break, Middleton believes it won’t be hard to keep that momentum rolling into the district tournament.
“I think we’re figuring it out,” he said. “The first of the year, our big deal was learning how to get it done and that’s what their learning how to do. Early we let some games slip, but I try not to think about what we could be because we’re 9-6 and 3-1 in the district and we’re in a position where we don’t need to rely on anybody else. If we win, we take care of our own business.”
Slowly but surely, they have with the help of some key seniors and newcomer AJ Jones who has led the team in scoring almost every night and has become a headache for other teams to stop. When they do, others like Reid Posey and John Wesley Williamson come through inside the paint, from long range or at the line.
The Raiders move to non-district play when they take on Class A Desoto on Tuesday followed by Benton on Wednesday in the Carroll tournament.
Middleton admits there was a little pressure when they had a losing record, but now that they are on a roll they’re getting more confident.

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