By JOEL COLEMAN
All season long, head coach Danny Crawford's message to his West Oktibbeha boys basketball team has been clear.
"Even a sick dog will fight at home," said Crawford, whose Timberwolves will get the chance to put their leader's mantra to the test again today as they host Shaw in the opening round of the Class A North playoffs.
"If you don't wag your tail at home, that's a sick dog," said Crawford. "(Playing at home today) is a huge plus. That's what we fought for all year and tried to get. We accomplished that goal."
The Timberwolves enter tonight's 7 p.m. contest against the Hawks as the No. 2 seed out of Region 4-1A.
Shaw comes in as the No. 3 seed from Region 3-1A.
West Oktibbeha, who currently stands at 20-8 overall, came up just shy of its division's top seed, but were thwarted thanks to a 31-point effort and game-winning shot from Mississippi State signee and Okolona standout David Gardner in the division tournament championship game in Houlka on Saturday.
Despite falling short over the weekend, Crawford isn't worried about any semblance of a carryover effect today.
"I think we'll be good to go," said Crawford. "We weren't disappointed at all (Saturday). Okolona beat us in the last 25 seconds. (Gardner) hits a circus layup and we come down and miss two shots at the basket to lose (72-70).
"We weren't disappointed because the kids are playing hard right now. We're playing hard for 32 minutes. That's all you can ask for."
West Oktibbeha has been especially tough on its home floor this season. When playing in Maben, the Timberwolves are 12-1, the lone loss coming in an overtime thriller against rival East Oktibbeha.
Crawford knows from recent experience how valuable it can be for a team to play in their own gym in the postseason.
"Last year, we went on the road and came up three points short," said Crawford. "It was a different gym that we had never shot in or practiced in. We had to find the rim in 32 minutes.
"This year, it's totally different. We're in our home."
If Crawford's team can get past Shaw today, the Timberwolves would play a second round game against either H.W. Byers or Thrasher on Thursday.
As much as he'd enjoy a win tonight, Crawford says his team has their eyes on a much bigger prize than a first round win - a Class A championship.
"I've got a real good basketball team and I can see it in their eyes," said Crawford. "We've got an excellent bracket. All we've got to do now is just jump on them, play hard and win. We've got a great shot."