Tigers, Lady Tigers sweep Region Championships

By CAMAL PETRO,

HATTIESBURG – Hattiesburg coach Ernie Watson called sophomore Cameron Brown “the future” of Hattiesburg basketball after the Tigers’ 49-47 win over Pearl River Central in the Region Championship game Friday.

Brown, however, didn’t want to wait until the future to make his presence known. He scored a team-high 18 points Friday in the win and he helped secure a first-round bye in next week’s 5A playoffs.

“That’s our future right there,” Watson said. “We’re going to go off him as much as we can next year and his senior year. He’s going to be something special. We’re going to try to get him his shots and the limelight because he’s going to be really good.”

So, what were Watson’s words for encouragement Friday night? Don’t go two possessions without scoring.

“Coach told me I don’t need to go two possessions without scoring the ball, and I need to get to the basket and shoot a lot,” Brown said.
The Blue Devils swept the season series over Hattiesburg, but both games were close. Brown called those losses a “tease” because he knew the Tigers were capable of winning both games.

“We had to go to practice and turn the intensity up,” Brown said. “We lost to them two times, but we just had to compete, trust the process and get better. They were really close and teasing us, so we had to go to practice to get a little more fight in us.”

Watson didn’t play three seniors in the first half due to “in-house cleaning,” as he described it, so it was all on Brown to keep the Tigers close. By halftime, Brown had 10 of the team’s 21 points, but Hattiesburg still trailed 25-21 at the break.

Of those three seniors, Will Robinson and Matias Pruitt made huge impacts in the second half to complete the comeback. Pruitt finished with 13 points and Robinson added five, but his defensive play kept PRC from scoring.

Robinson was also named the Region’s Defensive MVP after the game.

“I told them in the locker room, ‘You rested the whole half. It’s time to play,’ and they did a good job,” Watson said.

Brown still found success in the final two quarters with eight points, and with Pruitt and Robinson’s help, Hattiesburg erased the seven-point, first-half deficit. Hattiesburg’s first lead since it led 10-8 came at the 4:38 mark of the third quarter when Pruitt converted a free throw.

PRC tied the game at 35 moments later, but the Tigers regained the lead never looked back. Hattiesburg led by as much as 10 points late in the fourth, but three, 3-pointers in the final couple of minutes by PRC inched it closer.

The Blue Devils will host a first-round playoff game Tuesday, while Hattiesburg is one win away from the Quarterfinals in Jackson.

Lady Tigers 50, North Pike 28: The Hattiesburg Lady Tigers breezed through the region schedule, and nothing changed with the Region tournament this week. They won both games handily, clinching the region title with the 22-point win over the Lady Jaguars Friday night.

It’s also the fourth straight time Hattiesburg has won a region tournament, three times in 5A and once in 6A, but that’s not the ultimate goal for Hattiesburg coach Caronica Jackson and her team.

“In the locker room, we were crunk, but it’s like, ‘OK, next,’” Jackson said. “We won the district championship, but we want to make sure we handle our business in the state tournament and make a real run and win a state championship.”

Sophomore Melyia Grayson scored 18 points in the contest to lead the team, and she earned Region Defensive MVP honors after the game.

“I’m extremely proud of the way she played tonight,” Jackson said. “She kind of put together everything we’ve been working on throughout the season. You always want your kids to show growth and show they’re improving on what we’re working on. She did that tonight.”

The Lady Tigers have earned a bye in the 5A playoffs, and they’ll host a second-round game next Friday with a trip to Jackson for the Quarterfinals on the line.

“This group, of course, we still have a young group,” Jackson said. “We still have senior leadership with Terralyn (Ulmer), and she’s been doing a good job of holding it together. This group, I think they really want it. That’s what makes a difference.”

Ulmer was named the Region MVP.