By Curtis Rockwell, Sports Editor
The Picayune Item
Both Poplarville basketball teams got big wins on Fat Tuesday.
The Hornets smashed Vancleave 82-48, while the Lady Hornets nipped Greene County 48-42. The wins came in the opening round of the Division 8-4A Tournament here on the campus of Greene County High School.
The pair of wins not only assured both Poplarville squads of spots in Thursday’s semifinal round, but also helped each earn berths in next week’s Class 4A South State playoffs as well. It’s the first time in four years that both the Hornets and Lady Hornets have qualified for the state playoffs in the same season.
In the boys game, both Nigel Wood and Emetric Fells missed dunks in the first half, but that was about all that went wrong for the Hornets.
Poplarville used some suffocating defensive pressure that resulted in an opportunistic offensive effort to roll to the easy win.
Fells, the Hornets 6-foot-5 center, used his height advantage inside early in the game to convert a pair of baskets and help the Hornets to a 10-4 lead three minutes in.
Poplarville’s full court pressure caused six Bulldog turnovers in the opening frame, and Rojae Raine made back-to-back baskets off consecutive Vancleave turnovers to make it 19-7.
The Hornets closed the quarter on a 10-2 run that included a lay-up by Alex Travis and led 24-9 after the first frame.
Wood hit a pair of jumpers in a 16-2 spurt to open the second stanza, and Poplarville was in command at 40-11 with three minutes to play before intermission.
Sophomore Devin Bonner nailed a pair of 3-pointers in the closing minute, and the Hornets held a commanding 50-17 advantage at intermission.
Travis sank two jump shots to begin the second half, leading a 10-2 run to open the third frame and giving Poplarville a 60-19 lead. And that, was that.
“We are so young, that I think it actually might have been good that we played in the first round,” first year Hornets head coach Chareck Cable said. “We needed to get our feet wet and realize that this is the postseason and its a different game. I thought the guys were loose and ready to play. It was a good effort by all of them.”
Bonner paced a balanced Hornet attack with 16 points, while Raine chipped in 13 points, Travis added 12 points and Anthony Martin added 10 points to the winning effort. Wood had eight points and five steals, and Fells grabbed a game high eight rebounds and had five blocks.
Poplarville plays Bay High at 8:30 Thursday night in the semifinals.
In the girls game, Poplarville jumped on the homestanding Lady Wildcats early and took a 28-18 lead at halftime, and then held off a Greene County rally in the second half to pull out the win. The Lady Hornets made five of six free throws down the stretch to hold off the Lady Wildcats.
Devynn Hart paced Poplarville with 13 points, while Victoria Arbo chipped in 12 points and Shaneisha Huderson added 10 points to the winning cause.
The Lady Hornets only managed one league win in the regular season, that one also over GCHS, and were the last seed coming into the event. Head coach Nicki Smith’s crew, though, picked the right time to produce one of its better efforts of the season and in doing so extended a long streak of making the playoffs.
“It seemed like all year long we had pieces of good games but never could put a complete game together,” Smith said. “But tonight it seemed like we put it all together thankfully.”
The Lady Hornets will meet unbeaten and top-ranked Bay High at 4 p.m., Thursday in the semifinals.
Both Poplarville squads will again play on Friday, in either the championship or third place games, depending on the outcome of Thursday’s contests.