West Harrison is rightfully deserving of being considered the top Class 5A boys team on the Coast, but Pascagoula has shown that it will be a dangerous squad once the playoffs get underway.
After beating Moss Point, 61-51, on Friday, the Panthers are on a 13-game winning streak.
Pascagoula hasn't lost since its Dec. 27 game in the Gulfport Holiday Classic against Class 6A Madison Central, the team considered by many to be the best in the state. The Jaguars won that game, 49-47, in overtime.
Pascagoula (19-6) will be a heavy favorite to claim the Division 7-5A tournament when it tips off on Tuesday. The Panthers will face East Central at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday with George County and Gautier to follow. Both George County and Gautier are threats to take down Pascagoula in the title game on Friday, but the two squads failed to beat the top team in the division during the regular season.
Pascagoula and West Harrison (21-2) met twice early in the season with the Hurricanes taking both games.
West Harrison won, 62-49, at Pascagoula on Dec. 7 and just three days later, the Hurricanes won, 75-73, on their home court.
It was in that Dec. 10 loss to West Harrison that Pascagoula showed that it was finally beginning to turn the corner as a team under first-year coach Ronald Norman. Even though point guard La'Datren Deas missed a lot of time due to foul trouble, the Panthers came up just shy on the road.
Pascagoula's only loss since it last met West Harrison (21-2) was the defeat to Madison Central.
With its 67-64 win over St. Martin on Tuesday, West Harrison showed that it hasn't lost a step as it heads into the postseason.
The biggest difference for Pascagoula since its 6-6 start to the season has been the improved play of senior guard Bobby Nettles.
For the first two months of the season, Nettles missed a good deal of practice time with his class scheduled that included some advance placement courses late in the day.
Once he returned to practice with teammates on a full-time basis at the first of the year, Pascagoula became a different team.
"Now when I call something, Bobby is right on it," Norman said. "He knows how to fit in. He knows where his role sets in at, so that's the biggest difference."
Pascagoula has also benefited from having a deep bench that includes several quality shooters. Norman has about nine players who have the potential of seeing quality minutes each night.
It also has to be encouraging that sophomore forward Jacques Belford is playing more like a junior or senior these days.
The 6-foot-3 Belford led Pascagoula with 19 points as he helped close out Friday's victory over Moss Point.
West Harrison remains the favorite to win Class 5A south state. Brookhaven (20-5) also should be tough to handle in the postseason.
It seems as if West Harrison and Pascagoula are destined to cross paths again in the playoffs, and Norman understands that the 13-game winning streak means little with the start of the postseason.
"We're going to be 0-0 on Sunday when we come in," Noran said. "That's what we're all about. Now it's time to try to win two next week and then we're going to try to win two the next week. If we do that, we'll be where we want to be (in Jackson for the Class 5A semifinals) and that's with the opportunity to win two more. That's kind of how we break it down."
Contact Patrick Magee at email@example.com.