Not only is it becoming more and more apparent that the Cougars are the real deal this season, but Columbia Academy is looking like the favorite in MAIS Class 3A with each passing week.
The Cougars went on the road for a pair of tough tests Friday and Saturday night against a 5A and a 4A, won both by an average of 10 points and showed they belong with the big boys. The coaches’ poll has Columbia Academy (18-1, 8-0) as the No. 1 team in 3A, while Mississippi Gridiron ranks the Cougars as the No. 2 squad in all of MAIS, behind only MRA.
Their latest road trip began in Bay St. Louis Friday after nearly two full weeks off with the Cougars outlasting St. Stanislaus 44-33. Tate Duncan led the charge with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Ras Pace added 12 points and nine boards and Ethan Stringer contributed 10 points.
CA head coach Dale Watts said St. Stanislaus employed a disciplined motion offense with a lot of passing and hard cuts, which allowed the Rock-a-Chaws to possess the ball far more than CA. The Cougars were able to get out in transition some but not as much they usually do, yet they were able to build a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter. St. Stanislaus went on a run, though, that trimmed the deficit to just five points, forcing the Cougars to slow down their pace to preserve the lead. They were able to draw a few fouls and make their shots from the charity stripe to put the game away.
“We had to make some adjustments,” Watts said. “They would pass it and cut for 30-45 seconds at a time.”
Then in Hattiesburg Saturday night, Duncan won a very difficult matchup with one of the top players in MAIS to lead CA to a 43-34 victory over PCS. Jeremiah Montgomery, a 6-foot-7 senior for the Bobcats, is perhaps the biggest and most explosive player CA will see all year, but Duncan still put up 20 points and corralled nine boards against him to lead the Cougars to victory.
Stringer added 12 points.
“PCS, in my opinion, is a very talented team,” Watts said. “We came out and jumped on them (early), but then they became more deliberate. Then it just turned into a possession game. We couldn’t get a fast break on them; they’re very athletic. They would get back defensively, and we couldn’t get any clean looks in the fast break. So we began to possess the ball.”
Through its torrid 17-1 start, CA has dominated most games with its ability to get to the rim in transition and kick out to open shooters on the perimeter despite nearly every non-district opponent being from a bigger classification. But to win on back-to-back nights on the road against a pair of teams that took away their strengths for the most part, the Cougars’ forecast is beginning to look even brighter, if possible.
“It is big. A lot of those games early in the season we were able to press full court (defensively). Both of those teams, St. Stanislaus and PCS, had a lot of speed at the guards so it was hard for us to contain them full court. Then we had to come back and play in a half-court game,” Watts said. “That’s very important and encouraging because we have to be able to win different style games.”
Duncan, Pace and Stringer have led the offense to this point, and Watts said he needs some younger players to step up to alleviate the load and bring more balance to the offense.
“I need Jeffrey (Pennington), Hays (Carley) and Robert (Johnson). We still don’t have Cody (Fortenberry), who has been out with an injury. Hopefully we get him back in a week or so. We need more balanced scoring because down the stretch those teams are going to put a lot of emphasis on the people we got shooting the ball,” he said.
They will head back on the road Thursday to take on Parklane Academy before hosting Centreville Academy Saturday night.
UPDATE: CA DOMINATED LAMAR CHRISTIAN 67-34 TUESDAY NIGHT, THANKS IN LARGE PART TO ETHAN STRINGER GOING 8-FOR-9 FROM BEHIND THE ARC.
Pictured Above: Columbia Academy's Ethan Stringer passes to a teammate Tuesday night. | Photo by Joshua Campbell