By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
It was really quite simple. Either watch the Cardinals continue their collapse in the National League championship series or find some diversion.
The solution was probably easier to comprehend than how St. Louis went from a 3-1 series lead to heading home for winter: how can Meridian High make the postseason?
While most of the playoff scenarios for area teams are quite clear and simple as the regular season is quickly winding down — all of the teams will have completed the regular season after Friday except for the Wildcats and Neshoba Central — there is the curious case of MHS, and also those Rockets.
But first let’s take a look at the postseason pictures that don’t cause headaches.
While the 8-man playoffs begin this week for Russell Christian — Kemper Academy and Calvary Christian, both former state championship programs, missed out on the postseason fun — the rest of the academies finish up the regular season this week. And Lamar and Newton County Academy have clear-cut postseason plans.
The Generals have clinched the Division 4-A championship for the second straight season and will host a first-round playoff game next week against either Claiborne (La.) Academy or Glenbrook (La.). The Rebels and Apaches play Friday in a battle for the fourth seed from Division 3-A.
Lamar, meanwhile, has clinched its playoff spot, but does still have plenty to play for against Simpson County Academy on Friday. The winner secures the division title and hosts the top wild card in the South while the loser will travel to either Centreville Academy, ranked No. 3 in the state in the MAIS, or Silliman (La.). The Tigers and Wildcats play Friday for the Division 6-AA championship.
The playoff pictures stay crystal clear in the lower classes of the MHSAA. Union has wrapped up its second straight Division 5-2A title and will host the fourth seed out of Division 8-2A in the first round next week, which will either be Richton, currently in that slot, East Marion or Lumberton depending on this week's outcomes.
In Division 7-2A, Clarkdale will miss the playoffs for the second straight season and the Bulldogs are hoping to upset Mize for their first win of the season Friday. Enterprise, meanwhile, is locked into the fourth seed and with it, a first-round trip to Division 6-2A champion Madison-St. Joseph. The Bruins are ranked No. 2 in Class 2A.
Philadelphia has already sewn up its fourth straight Division 5-3A title — the Tornadoes are still unbeaten since moving into the division four years ago — and the Tornadoes will host the fourth seed out of Division 8-3A, which could end up Sumrall, Collins, Perry Central or Saint Patrick, depending on the outcome of this week's games.
The rest of the playoff participants from the division have been decided — Southeast Lauderdale, Newton and Heidelberg — but not the particular order. Southeast will secure the second seed and a home playoff game against the 8-3A third seed, which currently is Sumrall and could be the Bobcats, Collins or Perry Central, with a win Friday against Newton.
Newton, which has won two straight to clinch its postseason berth, could end up second or fourth, which will either result in a trip to West Marion for the first round or a home game against Sumrall, Collins or Perry Central.
Choctaw Central and Kemper County, meanwhile, will miss the postseason.
Things start to get muddled as we move up another class, but one thing that isn’t is Quitman. The Panthers, ranked No. 3 in Class 4A, have clinched their second Division 5-4A title in three years and will host either Vancleave or Poplarville, who play this week for the fourth and final berth out of Division 8-4A.
While Laurel and Northeast Jones are battling Friday for second and third in the division, Northeast Lauderdale, which is currently fourth, can punch its postseason ticket with a win Thursday against rival West Lauderdale. That would net the Trojans a trip to face either Bay or Forrest County AHS in the first round.
One spot behind Northeast is Newton County. The Cougars need the Trojans to lose to have a chance at the postseason. If West does beat the Trojans for the eighth straight time, the Cougars can win fourth outright with a win against Quitman. Otherwise the final seed comes down to a point differential tiebreaker where Newton County is +8 (maximum points one can achieve is +12), while Northeast is currently at +4 and West is at minus-8. So the Cougars would win that tiebreaker.
And while the Knights can force a three-way tie for fourth with a win and a Newton County loss to Quitman, West won't be able to win the point differential tiebreaker. However, the Knights can play spoiler Thursday night and ruin rival Northeast Lauderdale's playoff hopes.
So far, so good. Now comes the fun part.
Unlike Classes 2A-4A, there is still two weeks left in the Class 5A and 6A regular season. Which means there is still so much up in the air. That is definitely true in Division 2-5A where the Rockets are currently part of a four-way tie for fourth in the division, although Canton owns the tiebreaker currently due to its win a week ago against third-place Callaway. Much more will be known after this week's games where Provine and Canton play each other.
First off, Neshoba needs to win out to have a realistic shot at the postseason. Otherwise, the Rockets will need Lanier to beat Canton in the regular season finale. The Bulldogs, who travel to Neshoba this week, are winless and have scored only 32 points all season.
Even if the Rockets do beat Lanier and current division leader Starkville, Neshoba will need some help to make a return trip to the state playoffs. One scenario involves Callaway also beating Starkville, while losing to Yazoo City, which also beats Ridgeland — currently second in the division — and Canton winning out. That would create a four-way tie for third at 4-3 and put the Rockets and Chargers in the postseason due to wins against the division champion Yellow Jackets. Or Callaway could lose to Starkville and Yazoo City, which still beats Ridgeland and then regardless of what Canton or Provine does, Neshoba would make the postseason. If Provine wins out and Callaway wins out, the Rockets would also head to the postseason, but if Callaway and Canton win out, then Neshoba stays home. Or if Callaway gets swept and Provine wins out, the Rockets would also go to the playoffs.
Which brings us to Division 3-6A, where Petal has clinched the division title and Terry and Forest Hill are destined to be stuck at home. After that, everything is up for grabs as Brandon, Hattiesburg, Natchez and Oak Grove are all 3-2 in the division and Meridian is 2-3. The good news for Wildcats fans is that those other four teams end the season squaring off against each other (Brandon and Oak Grove each play Hattiesburg and Natchez), so if MHS takes care of business against Terry and Forest Hill, there are plenty of chances to make its 10th straight trip to the playoffs.
Scenario 1: Brandon wins out, Oak Grove loses out — Brandon is second, MHS is third due to win against Brandon.
Scenario 2: Brandon wins out, Oak Grove loses to Hattiesburg but beats Natchez — Meridian again third due to win against No. 2 Brandon.
Scenario 3: Brandon wins out, Oak Grove beats Hattiesburg but loses to Natchez — the first case where the Wildcats head home as they are eliminated due to losses to both the Bulldogs and Warriors, the other teams in the three-way tie.
Scenario 4: Oak Grove wins out, Brandon loses out — Natchez gets third due to point differential (+1 to Meridian’s even and Hattiesburg’s minus-1), with the Wildcats getting fourth due to head-to-head win against the Tigers.
Scenario 5: Oak Grove wins out, Brandon beats Natchez but loses to Hattiesburg — Meridian is third due to wins against both Brandon and Hattiesburg.
Scenario 6: Oak Grove wins out, Brandon beats Hattiesburg but loses to Natchez — Natchez gets third due to head-to-head wins against both with Meridian fourth after defeating Brandon.
Scenario 7: Oak Grove and Brandon both win out — Meridian gets fourth as the only team at 4-3.
Scenario 8: Natchez and Hattiesburg both win out — Meridian againg fourth as only 4-3 team.
Scenario 9: Natchez wins out, Hattiesburg loses out — Brandon gets third due to point differential with Oak Grove’s win against Meridian eliminating the ’Cats.
Scenario 10: Natchez wins out, Hattiesburg beats Oak Grove but loses to Brandon — Meridian gets third due to wins against both Hattiesburg and Brandon.
Scenario 11: Natchez wins out, Hattiesburg beats Brandon but loses to Oak Grove — the Warriors get third due to wins against both with MHS fourth due to win against Tigers.
Scenario 12: Hattiesburg wins out, Natchez beats Oak Grove but loses to Brandon — MHS third due to win against No. 2 HHS.
Scenario 13: Hattiesburg wins out, Natchez beats Brandon but loses to Oak Grove — the Wildcats are eliminated due to losses to both the Warriors and Natchez.
Scenario 14: All four teams split — would come down to point differential to determine second seed. In that case, Meridian (even) would want Brandon (+4 currently) or Hattiesburg (minus-1 currently) to end up second, due to win against those teams.
If Meridian splits its final two games, the Wildcats would need either Brandon and Oak Grove to win out or Hattiesburg and Natchez to win out. Under both scenarios, the Wildcats would own wins against the No. 2 seed (Brandon or Hattiesburg) to break the three-way tie.