February 25, 2018 12:23:12 AM
From Special Reports
COLUMBIA -- Russ Whiteside highlighted three things his Heritage Academy boys basketball team would have to do to have success against Hillcrest Christian School.
Whiteside said the Patriots would have to protect the basketball against the Cougars' pressure defense. He also said Patriots would have to keep the Cougars out of the paint and box out and rebound.
Mission accomplished on all three fronts.
Buoyed by a 19-point effort by Dontae Gray, Heritage Academy defeated Hillcrest Christian School 59-39 in the championship game of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA State tournament at Columbia Academy.
The win catapults Heritage Academy into the MAIS Overall State tournament, which begins Monday at Mississippi College in Clinton. Heritage Academy will play Simpson Academy at a time and date to be determined.
Heritage Academy coach Russ Whiteside said Saturday night he didn't know what time or when his team would play next, but he praised the effort of a team he said has come together after rallying past Leake Academy in the semifinals of the district tournament in Columbus.
"It has just been a lot of hard work," Whiteside said. "They laid it all out there on the line. Hillcrest is a very long and athletic team that is really quick off the dribble. We just tried to get into the gaps and keep them from getting the ball into the paint and made some outside shots. They did a good job of that."
Eli Acker and Jared Long added 12 points and Josh Neal had 10. Those three and Gray were named to the all-tournament team.
Heritage Academy's title road started with a come-from-behind victory against Leake Academy. A victory against Canton Academy secured the district title. Heritage Academy then beat Bayou Academy, Lee Academy, and Starkville Academy to win the Class AAA North title.
On Saturday, Whiteside said the Patriots didn't have control until the fourth quarter, even though they led for most of the game. He said the Patriots led by six points at halftime and then stretched the lead to 10 or 12 points before the Cougars cut it back to six or eight. Through it all, he said his players stayed in control, made plays, and hit free throws to seal the deal.
"They did a great job of executing the game plan," Whiteside said. "I couldn't be more proud of them. They have become that team that has a lot of fight in them. That is why we're state champions."
Whiteside said the growth of his sophomores has added to the team's tenacity. He pointed back to the rally against Leake Academy as a pivotal juncture in which the players could have packed it in. Instead, he said they showed resolve and fight, much like they did Saturday to win another title.
"We have been pretty good (since the victory against Leake Academy)," Whiteside said. "When we weren't pretty good, we have found ways to win, which is the sign of a pretty good team."
On Friday night, Jared Long had 14 points and Eli Acker had 12 in Heritage Academy's 43-37 victory against Riverfield Academy in the Class AAA State tournament.
The Starkville Academy girls finished fourth in the Class AAA tournament.
The Lady Vols fell to Kirk Academy, 54-33 Friday and then fell to North Delta Academy 37-35 to end the season Saturday.
n In the Class A State tournament, Will Teague had 11 points in the Columbus Christian Academy boys basketball team's 60-44 loss to Union Christian Friday night.
Isaiah Cooper had nine points, Nate Parker had eight, and Lawson Studdard had seven.
Desoto School (Ark.) then ended the CCA season with 51-44 loss in the third-place game Saturday night.
Nate Parker had 23 for the Fams.
The Hebron Christian girls finished fourth after losing to 51-44 to Tensas Academy in the third-place game Saturday.
n On Tuesday, CCA, the No. 4 seed from the North, upset No. 1 seed Trinity Episcopal 69-55. Studdard and Teague had 21 points.
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