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Raymond Rangers surge past Choctaw Central 66-53 to secure eighth-straight MHSAA Championship appearance

The Rangers used a strong third quarter to put the Warriors away, avenging their season-opening loss

There's a couple of things you can count on in Mississippi in late February and early March: tax season, unpredictable weather, and the Raymond boys playing for a state championship.

The Rangers stormed past Choctaw Central 66-53 in the Semifinal Round of the 2024 MHSAA Class 4A State Tournament Wednesday afternoon to reach an incredible eighth-straight state title game appearance.

Raymond (27-6) will face Region 6-4A rival McComb for the Class 4A State Championship at Noon on Saturday.

Wednesday's win also provided the Rangers a little revenge after the Warriors defeated them 60-57 back on Nov. 7 in the first game of the season for both teams.

“We knew they could shoot the ball really well," Raymond coach Tony Tadlock said. "So we knew if we could get them out of the press, we would be able to have success. The beat us the first game of the season, so we knew it would be tough.”

The Rangers jumped out to a 16-7 lead to begin the first quarter, but Choctaw Central ended the quarter on a 13-6 run to cut the Raymond lead to 22-21. The first half ended in a 31-31 tie.

The third quarter was the difference, as Raymond went on a 16-5 run to take a 47-38 lead and ended the quarter on a 7-2 run to take a 54-42 lead. Mekhi Strong scored 10 of his 15 points for the Rangers in the quarter.

“In the huddle we all said this wasn’t going to be our last game," Strong said. "So we had to bow up and trust each other and went on that run. We are not the same team we were back at the beginning of the season, and we worked on getting downhill and not turning the ball over, and that’s what gave us the advantage.”

Keymarius Lewis had a game-high 17 points to lead Raymond, while Mississippi State commit E.J. Paymon added 10 points, seven blocks and six rebounds.

As good as those two were, Tadlock said Strong's third-quarter performance was the key for the Rangers.

“Mekhi was huge for us tonight," Tadlock said. "He’s so tough, coachable and gets a lot of rebounds. We were able to wear them down because this court isn’t like a typical high school court, and it led to some easy lay-ups for us. We're excited to get play another game, and that’s something we talk about is coming back and winning it for our school and community.”

Zylier Clemons had 12 points to lead Choctaw Central, while Koie Williams added 11 points for the Warriors (27-6).

“We got in rhythm and then we hit a lull and couldn’t make shots,” said Choctaw Central coach Delvin Thompson. “When we weren’t making shots, they were making shots, and they went on that big run and we had to play catch up.”