March 5, 2014 11:41:11 AM
While the National Junior College Athletic Association Region XXIII tournament is played in Clinton each season, the East Mississippi Community College men's basketball team has felt right at home, winning four-straight championships. Each title has earned EMCC a trip to NJCAA National Championship tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.
Fifth-seeded EMCC will begin the quest for a fifth-straight title at 2 p.m. Thursday against fourth-seeded Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. at Mississippi College's A.E. Wood Coliseum.
EMCC (19-6) will need three wins in three days to capture the single-elimination tournament for a fifth-straight year.
"For whatever reason, the kids have really responded when they have been in a one-and-done situation," EMCC seventh-year coach Mark White said. "It says a lot about their character that the bigger the game and the bigger the challenge, the better they respond."
EMCC hasn't won a MACJC state championship under White's watch. However, the squad has advanced to the regional tournament each year after winning the regular-season North Division title or earning an at-large bid.
EMCC will attempt to become the fifth school to make five-straight regional appearances, and the first to do it since Southeastern Iowa C.C. from 1963-67. The national record for appearances is eight.
This season, the pressured mounted on the Lions after an atypical third-place finish in the North Division standings. EMCC responded by winning a pair of games in the state tournament before falling 73-72 to Itawamba C.C. in the state championship game in Fulton.
ICC (17-9) is the No. 2 seed and will face No. 7 seed Northwest Mississippi C.C. at 6 p.m. Thursday. The tournament field also includes No. 1 Jones Junior College, No. 3 Southern Shreveport, No. 6 Pearl River C.C., and No. 8 Southwest Mississippi C.C.
"We competed well at the state tournament and had our chances," White said. "The postseason is a whole new season, and I challenged the kids to relish that opportunity and to take advantage of it."
Former Starkville High standout Jacolby Mobley led EMCC with 20 points in the state championship game. The loss was a rare blemish for a team which has won 10 of its last 12 games. EMCC beat ICC 85-51 two weeks prior in Scooba.
"We really finished the season strong," said Mobley, who leads the team with an average of 16.2 points per game. "The couple of losses we had, we just didn't do enough on the defensive end."
White's squads have prided themselves on tenacious defense in their recent regional tournament success. This season, the Lions are allowing 52.9 points per game.
"The biggest compliment you can get from another coach is about how hard you guard them," White said. "We feel like we apply defensive pressure when we get off the bus. A lot of points are scored in this league and we have offensive capabilities. But late in the season when it matters, most the fact that we will guard you hard for 40 minutes has paid us dividends."
Avery Woodson, of Wayne County, is averaging 15.7 ppg., while Alabama transfer Devonta Pollard is averaging 11.8 points per game. Pollard also leads the team with 6.2 rebounds per game.
EMCC and Gulf Coast didn't meet in the regular season. The Bulldogs finished second in the MACJC South Division and enter regional play with a 19-6 record. Gulf Coast beat Northwest before losing to ICC in the state tournament.
Meanwhile, ICC and Northwest will meet for the third time this season. After winning their first MACJC state title since 2009, the Indians will try to beat the Rangers for a third time. ICC won 95-83 at home and 109-102 in overtime in Senatobia.
"I am really proud this group bought in and did what it takes to win a championship," ICC second-year coach Grant Pate said. "It is a special group. They always believed they could accomplish something special. Hopefully, they still have more left to accomplish."
Alex Anderson, of Memphis, Tenn., leads ICC with an average of 16.8 ppg., while former Starkville High standout Tory Rice paces the team with 8.2 rebounds per game.
The women's side of the four-day event begins today. EMCC (16-8) will face Southwest Mississippi at 6 tonight. It is a rematch of last week's opening-round at the state tournament, where Southwest recorded a 66-61 upset against the North Division regular season champions.
The EMCC women have qualified for four regional tournaments under ninth-year coach Sharon Thompson. However, this is their first regional berth since 2011. The ICC women failed to advance to the regional tournament.
The Region XXIII women's champion will advance to national championship competition in Salina, Kan. EMCC needs three wins to return to that event for the first time since 2009.
n Boyd earns first victory at Northeast: At Decatur, Ala., Former New Hope High School standout Landon Boyd earned his first victory Tuesday in the Northeast Mississippi Community College's 5-3 win against Calhoun (Ala.) C.C.
Boyd (1-2) threw 2 2/3 innings in relief after losing his first two appearances (starts) as a Tiger.
"I was pretty nervous being a freshman the first couple of games," he said. "That's kind of gone. It had been a week or so since I'd got to throw so I was ready. I came out and felt pretty good."
Boyd took the mound in the fourth inning with Calhoun leading 3-1 and with a runner on base and one out. He turned the momentum when he caught Tyler Willinger with a pickoff while he was attempting to steal third base. Boyd tagged Willinger for the out after a lengthy run down play to end the Warhawks' last major threat.
Northeast evened the score in the sixth. Boyd retired the Warhawks in order in the latter half to set up Easton Hall's heroics in the seventh. Hall had an RBI double that scored Heath Wood with what proved to be the winning run.
n EMCC players earn honors: At Scooba, For the second consecutive week, an East Mississippi Community College student-athlete has collected MACJC Player of the Week accolades.
As this week's MACJC Softball Position Player of the Week, Pepper Baker earned recognition for her performance from the previous week. Sophomore pitcher Hunter Swart, of Nanih Waiya High School in Louisville, was named OC Sports NJCAA Division II Baseball Pitcher of the Week along with his MACJC honor. Sophomore forward Justin Kinsey, of Yazoo City, was named MACJC Men's Basketball Player of the Week for the final week of the regular season.
Special reports were included in this report.
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
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