February 16, 2018 10:30:02 AM
MACON -- New Hope High School seniors Tyler Stevenson and Kyree Fields realize no major changes are coming to their basketball team.
As the calendar turns to postseason play, Stevenson and Fields know the Trojans are what they are. However, they both believe that is enough.
"This is a team that can get to Jackson," Fields said. "We have to play hard and we have to outwork the other team. We have to be great on defense. There is no substitute for that. I like this team. We don't have a bunch of superstars. However, we have enough."
New Hope had enough to hold off Louisville 52-48 in the semifinals of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A, Region 4 tournament Thursday night.
No. 2 seed New Hope (19-7) will face No. 4 seed Leake Central (14-14) at 8:30 tonight for the region championship. Both teams have been guaranteed a first-round playoff game at home Tuesday. The winner will have a chance to play at home twice before going to Jackson.
"There have been New Hope teams in the past who have played at home (in the playoffs) but still not made it to Jackson," Stevenson said, "so we aren't going to take anything for granted. We have to keep pushing. We have to work harder than we have at any point in the season. There are a bunch of seniors on this team. We want to go out on a high note."
New Hope coach Drew McBrayer will count on that senior leadership as the team hits the stretch run.
"There were stretches in the fourth quarter where we had four seniors on the floor," McBrayer said. "If that's the case, you want the light to come on. You want them to be playing like it's their last game. In this game, that is what happened. Tyler and Kyree really took over in the fourth quarter when we needed it. That is what you expect when you have seniors who have played together for this long.
"We aren't going to make any changes. We have to play the hand we are dealt. As a coach, you just want a team to play up to its potential."
New Hope out-toughed Louisville in the rubber match of a three-game season series. The Trojans led by as many as seven points four times but had to rally in the closing minutes.
Down two, Stevenson took the ball at the top of the key, drove past two defenders, had a layup rim out but drew a foul. He hit both free throws.
Two possessions later with the team again down two, Fields made the same move to the other side of the basket. He scored and completed a three-point play.
"In the second half, we got to the free-throw line more and that was the difference in the game," Fields said. "To be successful, we have to be physical and we have to impose our will in the paint. We had more size (than Louisville), so once we put our mind to going to the goal, it made things easier."
Stevenson had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Fields added 16 points. R.L. Mattix had the hot hand early, as he hit two 3-pointers to help New Hope build a 20-13 advantage.
New Hope still led 27-22 at halftime. In the third quarter, Louisville (20-6) forced some turnovers and used a 9-0 run to take a 39-37 lead. That run ended on a 3-point basket in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter.
McBrayer called a timeout and encouraged his seniors to stay calm and play within themselves.
"The biggest thing for this team is to do things we are capable of doing," Stevenson said. "There are a lot of things we do well."
In the fourth quarter, those things were eventually done well. Down 43-41, New Hope battled back for a 48-43 lead on a 7-0 run. A 3-point play by Fields put the team ahead for good.
"The region championship would be huge for this team," McBrayer said. "You can really help yourself out for next week."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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