BY DALE A. LEONARD
It was ladies first Monday.
Now its time for the guys.
Opening round North State playoff action gets underway at 7 p.m. today. Thirty-four area teams continue a quest for a shot at an elusive state championship. Eight were crowned region champions Friday, 10 finished as runners-up, nine placed third and seven claimed the fourth and final spot.
Union County, the region's self-proclaimed hotbed of basketball, swept its way into the next round as all five boys qualified. New Albany and Ingomar won region titles, West Union was third while Myrtle and East Union were fourth.
New Albany (27-3) opens hosting Yazoo County (10-22). If the third-ranked Bulldogs are victorious, the remaining Class 4A North Tournament, which starts Thursday, will be at their friendly confines.
Initially, New Albany was the second choice to a joint bid by the Jackson Public Schools to host at Jackson State University based on the availability of the on-campus facility.
That bid fell through due to a scheduled JSU home game with arch-rival Alcorn State on Feb. 28, which is the all-important final night of the North State tournament.
"We're unbeaten at home this season. We've got one senior (Brandon Hill) and during the region tournament we stressed giving him one more game at home," New Albany coach Tony Elliott said.
We already knew last Friday (region championship game) that we were playing at home. That took some pressure off, and we treated it like a home game."
Ingomar, the Daily Journal's No. 5 team, is also in line to host the 1A North Tournament. The 26-4 Falcons are the second choice. They must beat county-rival Myrtle and needs third-place Pine Grove to upset Division 4-1A runner-up West Lowndes, which is the first choice to host.
Four area teams donning the underdog role made the biggest impact in last week's region tournaments.
Saltillo, seeded No. 6 in the Region 1-4A Tournament, beat Tishomingo County, followed by a shocking upset of No. 2 Shannon. The Tigers (10-23) fell in the championship to top-seed Noxubee County.
"Our kids played hard, and we just wanted to give ourselves a chance," said coach Rodney Spears, whose team hosts Bailey (11-17).
Jumpertown, South Pontotoc, and Booneville were all No. 3 seeds in their respective regions and went on to claim titles. After winning their region openers, each went on to topple the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.
Jumpertown (19-12) entertains East Webster in today's opening round, South Pontotoc (20-10) tackles East Side and Booneville (17-10) hosts Shaw.
South Pontotoc is led by first-year coach Matt Waldrop. Previously he was the school's junior high coach and two-year assistant under former Lady Cougars coach Tim Wilder, now at Starkville.
"I give all the credit to the guys," Waldrop said. "The players have to play. I think we are emphasizing the right things."
Leading the team is five-year starter Willie Crudup along with his brother Andre, a sophomore who has also been a starter since eighth grade. They are joined by seniors Cole Golden and Shan Williams. Junior Cas Lipsey is the other starter and is averaging 15 points per game.
South Pontotoc won its first boys region championship since the mid '80s by downing top-seed Aberdeen in the title game. It was the Cougars' second win this season against the Daily Journal's No. 7 team. They have also beaten No. 8 Houlka twice, No. 4 New Albany and lost by five to No. 5 Ingomar.
"The Ingomar game was a test to see where were," said Waldrop. "Then came the wins against Houlka, Aberdeen, and New Albany. We are peaking at the right time, and I couldn't be happier for the guys."
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