By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Ian Burress, at 5-foot-9, may have been one of the smallest players on the court in Friday’s MHSAA Class 2A State Tournament semifinals game, but he left the arena with the biggest smile.
The senior guard helped a pint-sized unit defend a much taller Bay Springs team – one with players standing 6-6, 6-5 and 6-3 – and his Bearcats left the Mississippi Coliseum as 53-41 winners.
“With us being short, we know teams think that we ain’t nothing,” Burress said. “Little do they know these little guys are going to work you to death.”
The Bearcats guarded the Bulldogs’ perimeter shooters, holding them to just 5 of 21 from behind the 3-point line.
Baldwyn also outrebounded its taller foe, 32 to 29.
“Give Dee Gates a lot of credit, he guarded the Bender kid,” Baldwyn coach Jason McKay said, referring to Bay Springs’ leading 3-point shooter, Eric Bender. “Dee and Tevin (Lindsey) were able to guard their guys, because they knew Ian had their back. He’s our best help-side defender.
“It was a team effort.”
Bender was 3 of 7 on 3-pointers and finished with 11 points to lead the South state champions. He was the lone player in double figures for the Bulldogs.
Gates scored 18 points, Lindsay 14 and Duke Upshaw 10 points to lead the Bearcats (28-5), who advanced to the championship game scheduled for 2:30 p.m. March 1 against S.V. Marshall.
Baldwyn lost 66-61 to Marshall in last week’s North championship game.
Bay Springs (26-4) trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half, but cut the Bearcats’ lead to 32-27 at the half on a 3-pointer by Demarcus Clayton.
A low-scoring third quarter ended with Baldwyn’s Lindsay sinking a short fade-away jumper to give his team a 40-33 lead.
The Bearcats dictated play and shot free throws in the fourth quarter.
“I thought they set the tempo early in the game,” Bay Springs coach Corey Mackey said. “We fell behind and never got in the flow. We hoped to score some inside, but didn’t. We shot a lot of 3s and didn’t make many.
“Baldwyn’s a real scrappy bunch.”
McKay, who was a point guard on Baldwyn’s last state championship team in 1987, hopes these Bearcats can bring home a gold ball.
“Our kids have got a lot of heart,” he said. “When they hit the basketball court they fully expect to win. They have the attitude it takes to be successful.”