HATTIESBURG – In 15 seasons under Nancy Ladner, the Harrison Central girls have often been championship bridesmaids, but have yet to taste ultimate success.
But the Red Rebels are back with another potential championship contender, and they flexed their muscles in a big way Saturday night, easily disposing of Oak Grove 47-14 in the Warrior Classic at Warrior Gym on the OGHS campus.
With a victory over Hattiesburg already under its belt, Harrison Central improved to 3-0 on the new season with a 51-40 win Tuesday night over Bay High and with the wins over OGHS and HHS Ladner and her girls served notice that they will be a force to be reckoned with in Class 7A this season. The Red Rebels were 20-10 last season, falling to Germantown in the Class 6A semifinals
“I feel like we can get back there again this year,” said Ladner. “I see us getting better. We have a great team with a great chemistry right now. And I think the chemistry can sometimes overshadow the talent, because when you have good chemistry, it will come together.”
The Red Rebels have reached the state semifinals 11 times since Ladner took over at HCHS in 2008, but have fallen short each time, twice in the finals and the rest in the semis.
“How good can we be?” said senior forward Larissa Hubbard. “We’re going to be the best. I think we’re going to go win state.”
Against Oak Grove (1-1), the Red Rebels showed off the whole repertoire, getting the ball down low to their big players, and displaying a ball-hawking defense that was way too much for the Warriors.
Oak Grove only made six field goals for the game, and committed 25 turnovers.
“The one thing we’ve been working on is just aggressive defense,” said Ladner. “We talk about how defense is what’s going to win us games. The defense turns into offense, and that’s one thing we’ve been stressing.”
Freshman Saniyah Murray got a putback layup to open the scoring then Hubbard took a missed shot and drove the length of the floor for a fast-break layup as Harrison Central opened the game on a 7-0 run and never looked back.
“We play every game like it’s a close game, like we’re losing,” said Hubbard. “So that way we keep our heads in the game.”
The lopsided score allowed the Red Rebels to use their bench, and it’s a deep bench that figures to play prominently in any success they enjoy in 2023-24.
“Another thing we’ve been stressing is that if you’re tired, we have depth,” said Ladner. “We have five that can go out there and five that can come in, and I think that’s going to be our biggest strength this year.
“Them being able to turn up the defense regardless of who’s on the floor. From the first game to this one, I saw a tremendous difference in the understanding of what we want them to do. I think we’re just going to get better and better.”
Harrison Central established an inside presence with Hubbard and senior Anaisha Carriere and never let the Warriors have easy looks from close range.
“We’ve got a lot of bigs on our team, so we make sure at practice and on the floor all summer that our guards are able to see the inside players, to get the ball to our big guys,” said Hubbard. “Once we get the ball inside, we know our big guys are going to score.”
Hubbard finished with 15 points to lead Harrison Central, and Carriere added 8 points. The Red Rebels led 12-3 after the first quarter and 25-5 at halftime. Oak Grove did not reach double digits in scoring until well into the fourth quarter
“We’re playing as a team right now,” said Carriere. “There’s no individuals, like we all trust in our teammates, getting the ball to them when they’re open. We’ve got big players who can rebound, and we’ve got guards who can box out and get rebounds too.”
Harrison Central will be back home Saturday hosting Warren Central.