As we enter tonight’s North Mississippi semifinals, 15 NeMiss teams remain: 9 girls, 6 boys. Bet you didn’t think one of those teams would be Hickory Flat.
Neither did I. But the Rebels upended Okolona 60-53 last night to send Jeremy Newsome and the Chieftains home. Turns out I might have unwittingly played a role in the upset.
I wrote in a blog Thursday: “…assuming the [Myrtle] Hawks get past Calhoun City – and that’s no guarantee – a semifinal clash with Okolona is likely.” Rebels coach Matt Thompson, an avid reader of this blog, printed out 15 copies of my semi-prediction and stuck them to his players’ lockers. Extra motivation aside, they still had to deal with the 6-foot-7 Newsome and the rest of the Chieftains.
“We came out, played hard, played our style,” Thompson said. “We’re smaller, (so) we had to play a lot more physical. Had to beat them with hustle.”
The Rebels (20-14) are hitting their stride, it seems. They face Myrtle tonight. Now for some other thoughts:
• 4A boys: New Hope won its rematch with Oxford, 83-79. Oxford had won 74-68 on Dec. 15; in last season’s state semifinals, New Hope beat the Chargers 70-58. I now declare New Hope the favorite to win state.
• Wiped out: We lost all four 2A boys teams, not surprisingly, and all three 4A boys teams, somewhat surprisingly. But 4A is awfully tough. We have boys teams left in 5A, 3A and 1A. In the girls, all five classes are still represented.
• Number crunching: As I said, we have 15 teams left. NeMiss is guaranteed to send at least six teams – 2 boys, 4 girls – to Jackson; that is the same number we sent two years ago. I stated earlier in the season that I thought the area could put 12-15 teams in the field, and that’s still possible, mathematically anway.
• Games to watch: Lots of good matchups tonight, of course, but two in particular stand out. In 3A boys, Aberdeen and Ripley will meet. In 4A girls, Gentry and Pontotoc hook up. Aberdeen has yet to lose to a 3A team; Ripley is seeking its fourth straight trip to Jackson. Gentry is unbeaten – I believe the winning streak is at 74 – while Pontotoc (Daily Journal No. 1) has reeled off 29 straight victories. I’m making the hike to Indianola tonight for that one. Hope I can find a Wi-Fi hot spot.