The South Pike boys were on a roll entering Wednesday’s finale against Vicksburg in their annual Christmas tournament.
Winners of four in a row, the Eagles were hoping to make it five by getting past a long and athletic Gator team. Despite getting off to a solid start, South Pike lost steam and could not recover, falling 61-58 in a thriller.
“That is a great team and we played them right down to the wire,” South Pike head coach Hilton Harrell said. “We just missed free throws and getting in foul trouble really hurt us. I like the heart, because that is a very athletic team. That is one of the most athletic teams that I have seen as a high school basketball team.”
As a team, the Eagles (6-3) made just 5-of-12 free throws on the evening.
Jaborri McGhee once again finished as the leading scorer with 22 points. However, it was Zavion Williams who got the South Pike offense started early on.
The senior knocked down a couple of 3-pointers and completed a three-point play, pacing the Eagles. Williams finished the game with 12 points.
Meanwhile, the Gators displayed a much more balanced attack, with four different players contributing a combined 13 points, putting the hosts in a two-point hole at the end of the first quarter.
Struggles continued offensively for South Pike in the second quarter but the Eagles’ defense kept the game close, holding Vicksburg to 13 points once again. The Eagles trailed 26-18 at the half.
Following a competitive back-and-forth third quarter in which McGhee began to find his groove offensively and Williams chipped in his third 3-pointer on the evening, the Eagles still found themselves down by nine heading into the fourth.
Slowly, the stellar play of McGhee, combined with a pair of key 3-pointers apiece from Yajari Jackson and Garrett Preston, helped South Pike chip away at Vicksburg’s lead. But the Gators got a big contribution from senior Sean Hardy to keep their offense going.
With under a minute to go in the contest, South Pike pulled within three following a 3-pointer from McGhee, providing some hope for the hosts. Looking to pull into a tie, South Pike couldn’t convert on offense before Hardy iced the game with a free throw on the other end.
Despite the loss, Harrell walked away from the game feeling good about his team competing hard with a 5A opponent.
“For our kids to come out and do what they did today, it is a plus for us,” he said. “We are 4A and they are a higher division. We came out of here with it feeling like a win, maybe not on the scoreboard, but as a team and the character that I saw, the improvement with certain players at certain positions and the hustle.”
Eagles struggle in loss
Like the boys, the South Pike girls were hoping for a clean sweep, at their annual Christmas tournament. The Eagles were able to get over slow starts in the first two games to pull out wins, but on Wednesday they could not recover and fell to Vicksburg 67-30.
“We were three steps slower than them, they were quicker than us,” said Harrell who also coaches the girls team. “Maybe with the two games that we played so hard, maybe we didn’t have the legs to compete three nights in a row because we didn’t play too much (prior).”
The offense for the Eagles (6-2) got off to a slow start as a combination of a stout Gators’ defense and struggles making close range shots plagued South Pike.
The first nine points for the Eagles came via 3-pointers from Shayla Johnson with the last coming early in the second quarter.
At the 3:31 mark, a basket from Shaniece Bell was followed by one from Symiahya Jackson and a free throw from Johnson closing out the first half scoring for the Eagles. South Pike trailed 33-14 at the half.
Tatiana Butler had a positive third quarter scoring all seven of her points in the period, complimenting three from Jackson. But the rest of the team struggled to put up any points.
A pair of Jackson 3-pointers in the fourth quarter represented the lone points in the final period for the Eagles as the Gators rode off with the win.