By Brandon Speck
JACKSON – If close games prepare you for big games, Baldwyn should be very ready for today’s Class 2A state championship against S.V. Marshall.
Baldwyn’s Bearcats (31-3), the defending state champions, have had plenty of gut checks – none more pressurized than last week’s 70-56 semifinal win against Heidelberg.
Winning close games demands discipline, especially from the free throw line.
It’s good to have a 90-plus percent free throw shooter on your side.
“Me and Conner used to go to the gym when he was a little bitty kid and shoot 25 free throws,” Baldwyn coach Jason McKay said. “So Conner’s been shooting free throws since Conner was two years old.”
Conner is sophomore point guard Conner McKay, prototypical coach’s son. He hit 18-of-20 free throws in the fourth quarter Friday.
It became a free throw contest after Baldwyn overcame a horrific start, shooting 27 percent in the first half and trailing 30-18 at the break.
Three-pointers from McKay, sophomore Coby Agnew and freshman Felix Hayes led the comeback, as did sophomore Duke Upshaw’s work in the lane. Upshaw was 6-for-6 from the line in the fourth quarter and finished with 12 points. McKay had a game-high 30.
Jason McKay dispersed credit equally, and also credited the team for getting the ball in the hands of their best free throw shooter when Heidelberg resorted to hack-a-Cat.
“That wasn’t Conner’s first free throw today. It wasn’t his first time to shoot 20 in one setting,” Jason McKay said.
Baldwyn had trouble defending the lane. That won’t be any easier against a tall Marshall team, a tall and mad Marshall (26-6). The two know each other well.
Marshall, which beat Baldwyn in the 2012 finals, were eliminated by the Bearcats in Baldwyn last season and left Prentiss County chapped by what they felt was a foul discrepancy.
In the semifinals against Calhoun City, Marshall big man Demarcus Weatherall had 30 points and 19 rebounds.
“They’re a great, great basketball team. That’s all you can say,” Jason McKay said. “Great coach, great players, great team. They play the game the right way. It will be a huge challenge for us.”
Class 2A State Tournament
• Who: Baldwyn Bearcats (31-3) vs. S.V. Marshall Tigers (26-6)
• What: MHSAA boys 2A state tournament championship
• When: 2:30 p.m. today
• Where: Mississippi Coliseum, Jackson
• Baldwyn: G Duke Upshaw (18 ppg), PG Conner McKay (15.5 ppg), F Romaro Crump (14 ppg)
• Marshall: F Demarcus Weatherall (15.6 ppg), G Robert Boyd (8.8 ppg), F Coyderic Weatherall (8.5 ppg)