In their three-year history, the Cleveland Central High School Wolves tend to get better as the year progresses during the basketball season.
In 2018, the Wolves finished second in the Region 3-5A Tournament and advanced to the second round of the 5A State Playoffs. The Wolves, last year, finished third in the Region 3-5A Tournament but won two straight playoffs games before losing to Center Hill 89-55 in the quarterfinals. This season, the Wolves were able to make some team history by winning their first Region 3-5A Championship and earning a bye into the second round of the playoffs.
The question for the Wolves this year is could they get back to those quarterfinals with a chance to go further? To advance to the quarterfinals for a second year in a row, CCHS had to face a Columbus High School team that finished second in Region 2-5A during the regular season and defeated Provine 58-52 to advance to the second round.
Saturday night at the Margaret Wade Gymnasium, the Wolves came out ready to play as they defeated the Falcons 72-54 to advance to the quarterfinals at Itawamba Community College in Fulton. The Wolves, at 17-13, will play Center Hill (23-8) for a second straight year Saturday at 7 p.m. After losing three straight games to close out regular season play, the Wolves have won three in a row.
CCHS head coach Bernard Berryhill stressed how critical it was for his team to learn from each game during the year.
“Experience is the best teacher,” Berryhill said. “The coaches can preach and talk till their blue in the face, but the real game experiences teach us and what we’re doing is applying the lessons we’ve learned throughout the course of the season. It’s win and advance now. We have three more one-game seasons. Whatever situations we’ve been placed in during the regular season helps us during this time of the season.”
The Falcons went up on the Wolves 8-4 in the first two minutes and 22 seconds of the contest, but that wouldn’t last for long. The Wolves went on 9-0 with Marcus Franklin scoring five of those points to take a 13-8 lead. Columbus’ JJ Williams hit a 3-pointer to make the score 13-11, but Jamal Anderson answered back with a bucket for CCHS to make the score 15-11 after the first quarter of play.
The Wolves continued their good play in the second quarter. Joshua Kirkham drilled two 3-pointers, Anderson scored seven more points and Keyshaun Lindsey scored four points in the quarter to help the Wolves stretch their lead to 34-22 going into the lockerroom at halftime. CCHS continued to play well in the second half and was able to stretch the lead to as much as 22 points in the fourth quarter.
“We really just wanted to make them work for every ounce of space that they wanted,” Berryhill said. “We try to make the opponents feel us. All season, I felt like we weren’t aggressive on the defensive side of the ball. The plan was to be aggressive with them defensively and make them as uncomfortable as possible and make them earn every scoring opportunity.”
The Wolves had three players with double figures in points. Jamal Anderson led the Wolves with 26 points and eight rebounds, followed by Kirkham with 16 points and four rebounds and Franklin with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Anderson has been the Wolves leader during the year but more players have contributed in a big way as of late.
Berryhill has enjoyed the way others have stepped up.
“We’re going to have to have other guys contributing in order for us to continue this journey,” Berryhill said. “I’m very happy with the progress the young men have made and the other players have made. I try to encourage them to be ready for the opportunity and ready for the moment and some of them took advantage of the chance tonight.”
The winner of the CCHS-Center Hill contest will take on the Forest Hill-Laurel game in the semifinals on Tuesday at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
The Wolves lost to Center Hill 89-55 last year in the quarterfinals.
Berryhill felt the extra year of experience in the quarterfinals will help his team on Saturday.
“I feel like we’re in a better position this year than we were last (year) because we had never been there,” Berryhill said.”Having done something once, you have an idea of what to expect. Fortunately for us, we have the same opponent we had last year. Because of the experience, we’re going to use that and apply to the best of our knowledge and give ourselves the best chance of possibly getting a victory.”