A heartbreaking, last-second loss to No. 9 Pearl River back on Feb. 4 left the East Central Community College Warriors with a 1-8 record in the MACJC South Division and little chance of qualifying for postseason play and a trip to the state basketball tournament.
The Warriors could ill afford another loss if they had any hopes of advancing to the postseason after a one-year absence.
East Central responded by reeling off five straight wins to close the season, including a thrilling 68-67 road win over Southwest on Thursday night, Feb. 21, that gave the Warriors the No. 4 seed in the MACJC South Division.
East Central will face East Mississippi, the No. 1 seed from the North Division, in a first round game at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at A.B. Howard Gymnasium on the Jones College campus in Ellisville. The two teams have met twice already this season, with East Central coming out on top 73-66 on Nov. 8 in Decatur and 58-57 on Jan. 8 in Scooba. The MACJC State Tournament bracket will be released later today.
The ECCC women were not quite as fortunate. The Lady Warriors defeated Southwest Thursday night 68-62, putting them in a four-way tie for second place in the South Division with a 9-5 record. However, after the first tie breaker was applied, the Lady Warriors were determined to be the No. 5 seed and thus did not qualify for the state tournament next week. ECCC appealed the application of the seeding tie breaker, but that appeal was denied by the MACJC Athletic Council Friday afternoon.
Based on its 16-5 record this season against Region 23 teams, the East Central women are expected to qualify for the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 23 Tournament that begins March 5 at Mississippi College in Clinton. The East Central men are also expected to qualify for the Region 23 Tournament.
Things didn't look good for the East Central Warriors early as they fell behind by double digits in the first half, trailing Southwest 40-27 at intermission. The Bears pushed their lead to 47-31 with 16 minutes to play. But the resilient Warriors went on a couple of big runs late in the game and finally regained the lead 68-66 with 12 seconds to play and held on for the 68-67 win.
Sophomore guard Roti Ware of Morton scored 30 points to help the Warriors to the season sweep of Southwest. He also had five rebounds and four assists. Freshman guard Nick Preyer (Mobile, Ala., LeFlore) was the only other Warrior in double digits with 12 points. Preyer just missed his second straight double-double of points and assists with eight assists. He had 10 assists in a win over Hinds earlier in the week.
With the win, the Warriors ended the regular season 13-10 overall and 6-8 in the South Division. The Southwest Bears concluded their season with a 13-10 overall record and 4-10 in division play.
The women's game in Summit was close throughout with East Central holding a 19-18 lead after one period and 33-30 at the half. The Lady Warriors tried to put the game away in the third period, running out to a seven-point lead, the largest of the night, but Southwest kept fighting back. The Lady Bears went on a 13-4 run late in the third and early in the fourth period to grab a 55-52 lead over East Central. From there, the Lady Warriors would outscore Southwest 16-7 for the 68-62 win.
Sophomore forward Sharan Turner (Gonzales, La., East Ascension) led East Central will 16 points, five rebounds, and three blocked shots. Freshman forward Jamaica Almons (Jackson, Murrah) had a big night with a dozen points and nine rebounds. Sophomore forward Diamond Wraggs of Louisville added 11 points.
The Lady Warriors, who received votes in the NJCAA Women's Top 25 poll this week for the first time this season, improved to 18-5 overall and 9-5 in MACJC South Division play. The season ended for the Southwest Lady Bears who were 8-15 and 3-11. East Central also defeated Southwest 76-69 on Jan. 28.