PHILADELPHIA – The second season got underway on Tuesday night for the Starkville High Yellowjackets and they took care of their business defeating Neshoba Central 73-35 in the first round of the Class 5A, Region 3, District 4 Tournament.
Seniors Gavin Ware, Tory Rice, Mike and Steven Brand stepped up to shoulder the load as Jacolby Mobley couldn’t go due to flu-like symptoms.
“It was a lot of motivation for us tonight," said Rice, who scored 11 points. "If one player goes down we just got to come together as a group and win this thing."
SHS boys coach Greg Carter agreed the win was big and so was the play of his veterans.
“Gavin stepped in and played well,” said Carter. “The two Brand brothers played well, then Tory Rice on the other side of the block … they all helped pick up the load with Jacolby being under the weather.”
Mobley attempted to play but it was apparent early on he just wasn’t going to have the energy level he needed to be effective. At that point, the Jackets turned to Ware on the inside who was simply dominant over the smaller Rocket team. Ware led all scorers with 16 points and gave credit to his coaches for having them focused on the task at hand.
“We had a long conference meeting and talked about what we needed to work on individually and collectively as a team,” said Ware. “We just knew we had to bring our intensity into this elimination game.”
Carter, who has seen his share of first round upsets, knew this game had to be taken seriously despite the fact the Yellowjackets had success against the Rockets in the regular season.
“Getting ready for this game was different,” he said. “It is like the start of a new season, the postseason. At the same time, this is the most important game of the year because this is an elimination game. Hey, if you lose this one, you’re done.”
The Yellowjackets will move on to face either Yazoo City or Canton on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the championship game of the tournament, and not knowing the opponent creates a bit of a dilemma for the SHS coaching staff.
“It is hard to say what we will do the next couple of days because these two teams play at the opposite ends of the spectrum,” said Carter. “One team is going to play slow, deliberate and the other one is going to be fast-paced, high strung, get it up and down the court. We’ll work on a little bit of both and be ready.”
No matter who the opponent, the Jackets know a home game is on the line and that’s something they see as very important.
“That’s the big one,” said Ware. “To come out and compete for district and have it be at our place would be special. It helps a lot to be at home. We have an energetic crowd and the atmosphere is special.”
Starkville will learn who they will play on Thursday evening when first round play continues at Neshoba Central, the host site for the tournament.
For now the players will celebrate the win and refocus on the task at hand, winning a championship.
“It felt real good because we needed that win in order to stay in it,” said Rice. “We are just taking this one game at a time and we knew we needed this game (Tuesday night).”