BENTON — Don’t look ahead. Take it one game at a time.
These are the words St. Joseph Catholic School boys basketball coach James Hunter has been preaching to his team these last couple of weeks.
The Irish are hoping for just one more chance at their inner-city rival Greenville Christian School. The undefeated Saints from GCS have beaten St. Joe four times this year, twice in the regular season and twice in the post season.
On Wednesday with a 61-21 victory over Newton Academy, St. Joseph advanced out of the opening round of the MAIS Class 2A State Basketball Tournament at Benton Academy. St. Joseph is next scheduled to face Sylva-Bay Academy on Friday at 6 p.m. in the state semifinals. A win Friday will likely bring the Irish (14-8) face to face with Greenville Christian once again on Saturday, with this fifth time being for the state championship.
“We have been preaching it is one game at a time,” Coach Hunter said. “Once you start looking ahead to the next ball game, then that game doesn’t happen. If we want to have another shot at it, we have to take care of business on Friday for a shot at a ring on Saturday.”
Even though they are trying not to look ahead, Irish players like star Jerrian King say they can’t help but to think, from time to, about another shot at the Saints. St. Joseph is the defending state champion. A win this time, with a victory over mighty GCS, would be even more sweet.
“We would like some revenge because they beat us twice in the regular season and twice in the tournaments, so we have to beat them when it counts,” said King. “But we are not focusing on that. We are just focusing on winning the next game and taking care of business.”
In Wednesday’s blowout victory over Newton, Jerrian King paced all Irish players with 21 points. C.J. Moore scored 14, Omar Emmons scored 7 and Tyler Beckworth scored 6.
It was the play of Beckworth, a backup forward, that stood out to Coach Hunter.
“Tyler Beckworth had his best game of the year, and it was really great to see,” Coach Hunter said. “Overall, I am pleased with the entire team. We struggled last week at South State. We didn’t have a very good tournament. We didn’t play well in any of our games last week. Today it seems like we kind of put some things together. I was a little worried with the long layoff, and not being able to practice. We came out tonight and shot relatively well, and we hit some free throws, which is good.”
St. Joseph’s opponent Friday is a familiar foe for the Irish. St. Joseph beat Sylva-Bay, 45-36, in the semifinals of the South State Tournament two weeks ago, and the Irish also beat Sylva-Bay last year in the championship game of the Class 2A State Championship.
“Sylva-Bay is very good ball team,” Coach Hunter said. “I came and watched them last night. They are well coached and well disciplined and have a really good inside game, and they play hard. They do things the right way and play.