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Jaguars playing with new life

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Rocky Mount Prep senior Kalil Baker gestures after making a shot during Thursday's second-round win over Plymouth. The undefeated Jaguars feel rejuvenated after the reversal of a postseason ban levied by the NCHSAA that stemmed from a Jan. 30 altercation.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Friday, February 23, 2018

Kalil Baker couldn’t shake the feeling of dread.

It was the unknown that worried the Rocky Mount Prep basketball team’s leading scorer, while the idea that he could do nothing but wait and hope that the NCHSAA made a decision in his team’s favor made him squirm.

The NCHSAA had initially banned the Jaguars from competing in the postseason after a pair of players on the team were involved in an altercation with Weldon High School during a Jan. 30 road game.

RMP was undefeated at the time and a sure lock for the No. 1 seed in Class 1-A’s East bracket. The school appealed the ruling, and on Feb. 13 learned that it had won that appeal to be reinstated by the NCHSAA. The school will pay a fine of $500, and head of school Todd Pipkin said the two players involved are no longer members of the team.

The Jaguars could, indeed, be part of the postseason. The title chase was back on.

“Being let back in, it made us want everything even more,” said Baker, a senior. “We know that every team is coming for our head, and we have to both learn from what happened and stay humble during these challenges.”

On Thursday, the top-seeded Jaguars (23-0) won a second-round game against visiting No. 17 seed Plymouth, and earned a spot in Saturday’s third round against No. 8 East Carteret. All five players in RMP’s starting lineup scored in double figures as they won by 20 points.

The Jaguars enjoyed a first-round bye, allowing for some time to reflect on what could have been and what is.

Jaguars players and coaches said playing in the postseason on Thursday had a unique feel especially because, for a few nervous days, it seemed as if the Jaguars wouldn’t get a chance to see how far they could take their undefeated season.

“It felt like the weight of the world was off our shoulders,” Baker said of learning the good news. “Because for a while, we didn’t even have the chance to see what we could do.”

Jaguars coach Jolly Manning said he has noticed a different atmosphere around his team. Practices had a little more intensity, the attention to detail sharper than ever.

It’s as if the team has already experienced that knockout loss, the emotions of a stunning, early-round exit already dealt with. The Jaguars are playing with an extra life, a renewed chance, and they aren’t about to take that for granted.

“I feel that with this new opportunity that we have, we all appreciate basketball a little bit more,” Manning said. “We feel more appreciative than yesterday, and even more than the day before that. Every day gets sweeter.”

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