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Brutalball greets basketball teams in state playoffs

Olivia Newton-John wasn’t familiar with the hazards of stateplayoff basketball action when she sang her popular song,”Physical.” In Mississippi the character of basketball changesdramatically when the regular season comes to a close.

No longer are those touchy, nitpicky fouls called. Players mustshrug them off and keep plugging, keep playing hard. Ignore thefouls and the moving screens, shrug the elbow jabs and accept thescratches.

Instead of basketball, call it brutalball. Such are the hazardsencountered in the state basketball playoffs.

The Wesson Lady Cobras enjoyed an outstanding season, winningthe Division 6-2A title and the Division Tournament. Certainly, theintensity picked up when they traveled to Scott Central for theSouth Mississippi playoffs. For sure, it was a whole, newballgame.

Wesson girls coach Hugh Webb has done a remarkable job buildingthe basketball program. This was their first state playoff run inover 20 years. Community pride and support blossomed as the victorytotal grew.

The Lady Cobras were looking for revenge when they met Newton inthe South quarterfinals. Newton had knocked out the Wesson crewlast season in the opening round of the state playoffs.

It was hard-fought victory and the Lady Cobras had the bumps,bruises and scratches to prove it after beating Newton. However,that was just the tip of the iceberg. Competition became strongerand meaner in the semifinals and finals.

“We played Newton and they were very strong,” said Webb. “Thenwe came back and played Scott Central and they beat us 21 (in thesemis). Bay Springs beat us 29 (in consolation).

“They were a lot more physical than us,” said Webb. “Both ofthose teams started four seniors.

“We were banged up from the first night on,” Webb continued.”Those last two teams were a lot stronger. We went about as far aswe could go with those girls. The good thing is, we’ve got them allback.”

To his credit, Webb refuses to attribute Wesson’s playoff lossesto the officials. “Most officials, when you get in the South andstate playoffs, most of them want to let the teams determine who isgoing to advance,” Webb pointed out.

There is no doubt about a foul when the officials blow theirwhistles. “They call the more physical and noticeable fouls,” saidWebb. “I told my girls you couldn’t expect to get those calls thatyou’ve been getting through the regular season. I think we adjustedas the games went on.”

There are some solutions. First of all, get tougher andstronger. Prepare yourself for basketbrawl instead of basketball.Whining and complaining are ignored by most officials.

Webb has a solid plan for the offseason workouts. “Now we aregoing to get in the weight room. We have to be mentally tougher,too.”

Basketball coaches agree that more consistent officiating isimportant. “Sometimes they call the little fouls and other timesthey let you play,” said Webb.

“Calling around here is drastically different from what youencounter in the state playoffs.” Amen.

At each level, the quality and aggressiveness of opponents israised a notch. “From my experience in the past, the farther you goin the playoffs, the more physical it gets,” said Webb. “You can’tlet the officiating sidetrack you or misdirect your attention.”

Bang! The high level of competitiveness and intensity hits youright between the eyes.

With all five starters returning, Webb said he is lookingforward to the 2009-10 campaign. Expectations are sky high. Thereturning quintet includes Ann Shelby Davis, Macie Case, AnselySchimmel, Shauntay Walker and Christina Fink. Summer Rials,Danielle Tadlock and Elsie Miller are top reserves.

“It was a great run for us,” said Webb. “It was an eye-openerfor our fans and our players, too. It was good for us.”

Obviously, Webb’s latest edition is a special team. “This wasthe most unselfish group of girls I’ve every played. We should betough to contend with in years to come.”

Webb said he plans to beef up the schedule. “One of ourstrategies is to pick up some of the schools that are a littlestronger. That wouldn’t do anything but help us get better.”

Besides the home-and-home division games, other larger schoolsare prospects for Wesson’s schedule. Schools like Brookhaven,Hazlehurst, Crystal Springs and McComb have been mentioned.

“I think there are some teams in this area that would have someinterest in playing us,” said Webb. “The thing about Wesson is thatwe bring a good gate. That’s how you pay your bills.”

For sure, there is no benefit to forging an unbeaten recordagainst weaker, also-rans. No matter how much of a bruising a teamabsorbs from a larger school, the lessons learned can be applied inthe rugged state playoffs.

P.S. Please pass the Advil.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O. BOX551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mail sports@dailyleader.com