Oak Grove duo helps basketball programs continue upward trajectory

Another basketball season is in the books, and people around the Pine Belt were treated with some good teams who held their own against other squads in the state of Mississippi. With good teams in the area, we had really good players, too.

Both the Oak Grove girls and boys’ basketball programs had the best seasons in awhile. The Warriors advantage to the second round of the 6A playoffs, and the Lady Warriors won a district championship and earned a first-round bye. If you talk to the players, both teams thought the season ended sooner than it should have.

Without players like junior Lekera Hughes and senior Winceton Edwards, neither team would have been in position to make a postseason run.

Hughes helped Oak Grove to a phenomenal season in 2015-16, as they won a first-round playoff game while she averaged 10 points a game. She improved her numbers to 13 points, three rebounds, three assists and four steals a game this season, leading her team to a 24-4 overall record and the district crown.

“It was really a sigh of relief, because we’ve been working the whole season towards it,” Hughes said of winning the district championship. “We really wanted to do it for (head) coach (Mark) Swindle, because he hasn’t gotten a district championship in all of his years (at Oak Grove).”

While she admitted to be disappointed with how the season ended, the year was still a special one for Hughes and her teammates.

“It was fun,” she said. “We didn’t get to where we wanted to go, but yeah, it was fun. Beating Brandon twice after not beating them at all in my years of high school, that was the best part.”

From scoring a season-high 31 points against Forrest County AHS in the PCS Christmas Tournament to being held scoreless in a couple of games, Hughes had her up and down moments throughout the season. She totaled 15 points or more 10 times in 28 games, including two 20-plus-point games and the 31-point performance.

When it came down the games when she didn’t score a lot of points, Hughes had to fight off the opponents’ defenses. Most teams tried to take her out of the game completely and force the other members of the Lady Warriors to beat them. Most of the time it didn’t work, though.

“It’s tough,” Hughes said. “I mean I don’t do much to try and breakaway from it, besides try to get my teammates involved. As soon as they start hitting shots, teams fall out of it and I can keep going.”

During the district championship game against Brandon, Hughes was locked down by the Lady Bulldogs’ defense in the first half. She was held to just four points during the first two quarters, but her team still had a 21-point lead at the break.

In the second half, Brandon couldn’t stop Hughes. She finished the game with 23 points, and 19 points in the second half, on 8-of-9 shooting.

Later this month Hughes will play in the Mississippi Association of Coaches North-South All-Star Game. The game is schedule for Friday, March 24 at A.E. Wood Coliseum on Mississippi College’s campus. Once summer hits, she’ll be busy with her AAU team, as she joked she really won’t have a break before her senior year rolls around in August.

Expect another big season for Oak Grove in 2017-18.

“We’re excited for next year, and everybody expects really big things,” she said. “We might go further than this year.”

On the boys’ side, Edwards rejoined the Oak Grove program after spending a season a Lamar Christian, where he averaged more than 30 points a game for the MAIS program. During his sophomore year for the Warriors, he averaged seven points per contest, then he upgraded his scoring to more than 20 points a game as a senior.

He even capped off his Oak Grove career with a 41-point performance against Harrison Central in the second-round loss.

“I was trying to win, I was trying to make it to Jackson,” Edwards said. “Those were my goals at the beginning of the season, so that’s what I was trying to do.

“I did pretty good from a standout of playing better competition than what I played at Lamar Christian. So, it was a good season.”

The decision to return to Oak Grove wasn’t made until a couple of weeks before school actually started. It wasn’t like he entered a brand new program, because he did play for the Warriors his freshman and sophomore years.

“It was really a hard decision, but my heart was here,” Edwards said. “My heart led me back here. It was a bit of a transition, but they accepted me back, and we gelled great.”

Oak Grove began the season 12-1 before losing the next nine of 10 games. It was just a slump, Edwards said, and his team just put their heads down and continued to work. The Warriors entered the district tournament with a 14-10 record, scuffling to a 2-9 finish.

That didn’t stop Edwards and the Warriors from pulling off an upset heard around the state – a 62-61 win over Brandon in the first round of the district tournament. Edwards brushed it off as just another win, though.

“It was a big accomplishment, but it was like an ordinary game. We prepare every game the same,” he said. 

Oak Grove would go on to beat St. Martin in a home first-round playoff game before falling to the Red Rebels on the road in the second round.