The Pass Christian Pirates broke away from the Vancleave Bulldogs in the closing minute of the second quarter Thursday and held their opponent to 13 second-half points. The impressive 58-37 victory sent the Pirates to their second consecutive Region 8-4A Tournament championship game.
Pass Christian scored 29 points in each half, but in the second half the Pirates made some defensive adjustments, mainly shutting down the Bulldogs' penetration to the basket along the baseline and in the middle.
"We spent the whole halftime talking about how we weren't defending like we work on defending all the time," Pirates coach Buddy Kennedy said. "The first half we never got in position defensively. So we spent halftime talking about defending, seeing if we could stop them from getting to the goal."
The Pirates were successful at stopping the Bulldogs' attacking the basket in the third period. The Bulldogs scored a single basket as the Pirates out-scored them 12-2 in the period.
The first half was about each team making good runs. Vancleave opened the game with a 5-0 run. Pass chiseled their way back into the game to trail by two (12-10) after Ray Obillo's three pointer as the first quarter ended.
The Pirates took the lead and rallied to build a 21-12 lead with three minutes played in the second quarter. Vancleave scored the next eight points before Malik Leaks sank two free throws for the Pirates for a 23-20 lead. The Pirates closed out the second period with a 6-0 run on Mark Williams' 3-pointer, and Maliq Leaks sank three free throws after he was fouled behind the arc with one second on the clock.
The Pirates' defense stifled Vancleave in the second half, and the offense was a lot more patient as it created easy scoring opportunities around the basket.
"We were pushing a little too much in the first half," added Kennedy. "We were kind of tight. We got ourselves a little more under control and didn't rush it so much. We kind of let it come to us."
"Pass Christian is a really good team," Bulldogs coach Robert Johnson said. "They have a lot of good athletes. They're number one in the district for a reason. They applied a lot of pressure to us on the defensive side. Their play tonight was outstanding. On the defensive side they were everywhere they were supposed to be. They made it tough to score. We kind of ran out of gas."
Jaylen Peters led the Pirates with 14 points. Leaks added 10. Trevor Davis led the Bulldogs with 16 points.
The Pirates take a 23-6 record into the Region 8-4A championship Friday against the winner of the Bay High-Moss Point contest. The Pirates won the title last year on a Leaks shot from half court at the buzzer.
Vancleave (18-11) will play the loser of the Bay High-Moss Point game for third place.