Early run gives Center Hill the edge over Hattiesburg in 5A Semifinals

By CAMAL PETRO,

JACKSON – An 11-0 run in the first quarter proved to be the difference in Tuesday’s 5A Semifinal between Hattiesburg and Center Hill.

With the game tied 15-15, the Mustangs scored 11 straight to close the opening frame, and that was enough cushion to hold off the Tigers, 73-69, and end their season with a 24-9 overall record and a second straight appearance at the Big House.

“We played well,” Hattiesburg coach Ernie Watson said. “We played tough. (Center Hill) is a very good basketball team, and I thought they got good guard play.”

The first few minutes of the game featured four ties and three lead changes, as Hattiesburg and Center Hill battled to the 15-all tie. The Tigers even took an 11-7 lead before the Mustangs scored the next eight of 12 points before their 11-0 run.

The run for the Mustangs came when Hattiesburg subbed five new players into the game, which Watson has been known to do. The reserve players only stayed in the game for a minute, as Watson quickly put his starters back. It was too late, though.

“I thought my second group, my subs, would come in and give us a little energy,” Watson said. “I knew it was going to be a long game and it’d get to (the starters) legs, and (the subs) just fell apart. The lights and cameras got to them, and they were too nervous.”

Center Hill’s Calvin Temple was nearly unstoppable in the first half. He scored nine points in the first quarter and finished with a game-high 28. During the 11-0 run, he recorded two steals and finished with easy layups on back-to-back Hattiesburg possessions.

While Kaeden Laws, a sophomore who averages 12 points and seven rebounds, sat most of the first half in foul trouble, Temple ended the first half with 15 points before finishing the game with seven free throws in the fourth quarter.

Junior Chris Lewis, who scored 19 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, led Hattiesburg, while junior Nick Walker finished with 16 rebounds and scored 15 points. Walker was a force in the paint, and his seven offensive rebounds led to several put-backs after Hattiesburg missed shots.

Walker fouled out in the fourth quarter, though, leaving the Tigers with a tough hill to climb if they wanted to come back.

“That’s our heart and soul on the inside,” Watson said of Walker. “He takes care of the middle for us, and when he’s not in there, it just opens up the lane for them to do what they wanted to do. He picked up that third foul in the first half, and I thought we were doing a good job of getting them in foul trouble, but that really hurt us.”

In the second half, the Tigers quickly fell behind by double digits, but they cut it to single digits halfway through the final quarter. The closest Hattiesburg got was when Cameron Brown hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds to cut it to four points.

Tigers will be back

Watson has been raving about the group of juniors he has since they were freshmen, and Tuesday marked the second time they’ve played at the Mississippi Coliseum in front of the big lights.

“They’ve played in this building two times, so now they’re starting to learn how to play in here,” Watson said. “They have to know how to adjust and get ready for this kind of atmosphere. It’s tough.”

The Tigers only have two seniors on their roster, so Watson believes a return trip to Jackson is in the cards.

“I’m very confident,” Watson said. “We’ll have a lot of senior leadership next year, and hopefully we can get a couple of more pieces in there, do what they have to do, and hopefully make that ride.”