PETAL – At halftime of Friday’s Oak Grove-Petal matchup, Petal coach Todd Kimble had an “I told you so” moment with his players.
“At halftime, I sensed a little bit of worry,” Kimble said as his team trailed by five at the break. “It was kind of an ‘I told you so’ moment for me. Then guys started doing what we practice every day (in the second half).”
The Panthers erased an 11-point deficit in the third quarter to beat rival Oak Grove 59-52 Friday. The win moves Petal to 14-2 (1-1 in Region 5-6A) and it drops the Warriors to 15-2 (1-1).
Like in Tuesday night’s loss to Meridian, the game didn’t start the way Petal wanted it to start. Oak Grove executed a good game plan early to help build a first-half lead, but something clicked for the Panthers a minute into the third quarter.
“Good gosh, it was like the Meridian game,” Kimble said of the first half. “We went through the whole half like that, but we made some shots right before the half and kept it close. Then we came out in the second half, and we were still a little sloppy. If we don’t run, the ball doesn’t move. Once we start moving off the ball, we’re moving the defense around and Caleb McGill is wide open to give him the ball where we can finish.”
McGill helped pace the offense with 17 points in the contest, and he scored 11 of those in the second half.
“He played probably one of the smartest games that he’s played this year,” Kimble said. “Against Meridian, he forced a lot of shots and he was getting double teamed the same way he was tonight. Tonight, he kicked the ball out two or three times and we made 3s off of that, which was key for us.”
Overcoming the slow start
Petal senior Don Avila agreed with his coach about the first half struggles. Like Tuesday, Petal wasn’t running its offense like it’s practiced all season.
“In the first half, we did not run the offense,” the point guard said. “In the second half, we picked up the paced, moved the ball and guys started scoring.”
Avila was one of those guys who started scoring, too. He scored six of his points in the third quarter, then added four more in the fourth, and all of them came at the right time. His fifth and sixth point of the third came with 32 seconds left, and it gave Petal its first lead since the score was 2-0.
Along with McGill, Avila scored 17 points Friday night, with the majority of his production coming in the second half.
“It feels great,” Avila said. “I’m so happy we came back and won. They’re rivals, so we have to beat them.”
Even though the Panthers won the game, they started the third quarter as slow as they began the game. The Warriors scored six quick points to push the lead to 32-21 over Petal, but powered by Avila and McGill, Petal scored 13 of the final 17 points of the quarter. Petal began the fourth with the 38-37 advantage
In the fourth, Petal extended the lead to as many as nine points twice to run away with the win.
“Once we started to tell each other to calm down, that’s when we got our mojo back and started moving the ball,” Avila said.
A few cramps in the third quarter didn’t stop Avila either. Both of his hamstrings started to tighten on him, so he drank pickle juice to subside it. He hates pick juice, by the way, but it worked.
So, moving forward, how does Petal prevent another slow start? It starts with the pregame, according to the senior.
“Honestly, it starts with our warm-ups because we don’t run in warm-ups. We have to get our sweat in,” Avila said. “Mentality-wise, we’re not ready. We start getting ready once we’re getting beaten, so that’s pretty bad. When we go against a good team, we’re not going to come back from that. It’s important for us to go out strong.
Oak Grove’s Jay Barnes
It was only the second time this season sophomore Jay Barnes has worn jersey No. 1. His old No. 23 was too big for him, so he made the move to the smaller jersey when it became available.
Whether it was the jersey or not, Barnes led the Warriors with 20 points Friday night. One moment he was hitting 3-pointers, the next he was recording back-to-back steals for easy layups.
“Any given night, we can have different guys be leading scorers,” Oak Grove LaRon Brumfield said. “That’s the way we’ve been playing all year. I thought he played a heck of a game.”
Oak Grove will travel to Pascagoula Saturday for a game against Gulfport, then it’ll play its first home game of the region schedule Tuesday against Meridian. The Panthers are off this weekend, but they’ll host George County Tuesday for another region matchup.