Natchez High Bulldogs advance to Quarterfinal round, girls fall to Brookhaven High
By BILL BARKSDALE
Special to The Democrat
BROOKHAVEN —Both the girls and boys Natchez High School basketball teams entered the second round of the MHSAA 5A playoffs Friday night against Brookhaven High School. But it was the boys who maintained composure throughout the game to advance to the next round.
The Natchez boys will advance to the MHSAA Class 5A Quarterfinals at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Pearl River Community College. Natchez High will play against Wingfield High School.
Natchez High advance to the Quarterfinals, following a decisive win against Brookhaven, 72-63. Conversely, the Brookhaven Lady Panthers shut down Natchez High 79-43.
Natchez boys 72, Brookhaven 63
The game against the Panther boys was evenly matched, but composure and mental awareness played a big part of the Natchez High victory.
Their mental discipline started with Natchez point guard Dionte’ Thomas, who executed plays and controlled the clock.
“This was a critical win for us tonight. Coming into hostile territory, we handled business,” said Thomas. “We had practiced passing inside to our stronger players, especially Ke’Darius Stampley and James Singleton, letting them attack the basket.”
Stampley scored 28 points, including two dunks and sank seven out of nine free throws.
“The game was intense, but I felt like we maintained our composure and controlled the clock tonight,” Stampley said. “In practice, our coach taught us that when we have a lead slow the game down.”
Singleton had the second highest score for the Bulldogs with 24 points.
“Tonight, we were more aggressive in the lane. Usually I stay off to one side, but tonight our inside shooting paid off,” said Singleton, who had one dunk and sank five out of seven free throws.
While Natchez consistently drove into the lane, Brookhaven’s Coach Marcus Flippin expressed frustration that the Panthers tended to drop back from the lane for a 3-point attempt.
“I called two timeouts to tell them to drive into the lane and shoot two. But everybody wants to be a hero and sink a three,” Flippin said.
Reflecting on the game, Natchez Head Coach David Haywood was pleased with the Bulldogs discipline.
“We know if we can win the mental aspect of the game, then we’ve got a chance to be successful,” Haywood said. “So many plays boil down to the players having a sound mind and making the right decision.”
Brookhaven girls 79, Natchez 43
Reaching the second round of playoffs is a big accomplishment for a young Natchez team in a rebuilding year.
Natchez High School Athletic Director Alphaka Moore returned in 2019 to coach the Lady Bulldogs. Moore’s girls won two state championships during her first tenure in Natchez (2012-2016).
“This is the first time in a while they have made it to the post-season and they lacked some composure,” said Moore. “We didn’t handle their full court press well, and defensively there was a lot of confusion on our end. Credit to Brookhaven, they made a lot of baskets and they knew to double up on our most physical player, Kelsey McNeal.”
Twenty Natchez turnovers in the first half doomed the Bulldogs. Natchez point guard McNeal failed to execute passes or plays against the Brookhaven full court press. Instead, McNeal relied on a skill she knew best, driving hard to the basket.
“Kelsey is a hard nose fighter, and normally when she drives in the lane, those are baskets that we can count on,” Moore said. “But Brookhaven did a good job in putting extra coverage on her.”
McNeal agreed with Moore.
“When they make points off of our mistakes, it costs us, especially when our shots and free throws aren’t going in,” McNeal said.
Kya Singleton led the Lady Bulldogs with 19 points.
“We tried to force things and move too fast in the first half,” Singleton said.
At halftime, Brookhaven had a 47-12 lead.
Moore thanked the seniors in the locker room after the game.
“Notice these seniors, who showed up to practice every day, gave 100 percent and tried their best,” Moore said. “There is nothing more you can ask.”