Saturday sports: Quistors top Titans, win 6A state basketball title

Olive Branch High School Boys Team

Bob Bakken DeSoto County Sports

Photo: Olive Branch players celebrate with the state championship Gold Ball after winning the MHSAA 6A state title Saturday evening. (Bob Bakken/desotocountynews.com)

Sometimes it’s a good idea not to listen to the so-called experts, those who live inside the central ۴ý bubble who can’t see past the Jackson city limits, or those confined to the Gulf Coast beach area. 

Those “experts” forgot that DeSoto County can play some basketball, too. The Olive Branch boys’ basketball team showed that in its 56-53 MHSAA 6A state championship victory over Ridgeland Saturday evening at ۴ý Coliseum.  

The Conquistadors, while putting together a strong resume replete with only four losses, were usually set aside in favor of other teams in the rankings, considered but never receiving a strong look. Olive Branch coach Eric Rombaugh, in the aftermath of his second state title in six years, said his squad took notice of the apparent disdain. 

“In 2018, with D.J. Jeffries and Moog (Cameron Matthews) and like that, we were supposed to win that one,” Rombaugh said. “This one feels good because from the beginning, we were the underdog. We were picked to win the division but once we got outside the division everybody was looking past us. These guys took it personally, I’ve got a bunch of overachievers and they just play really hard for each other.”

Senior guard Zahir Guttierez, whose game-winning three-pointer Wednesday to beat Terry 70-68 was followed by two late free throws to force Ridgeland to score a three just to tie the game Saturday night, added, “Everybody doubted us and they never thought we’d be back here because that’s what we’re about. We’re about proving everybody wrong.”

Olive Branch lost in the semi-finals to Brandon last year after losing the championship game to Clinton by one point two years ago, and game MVP Jerry Wall III said the Quistors took the losses hard.  

“That took a big toll on our team as a whole,” Wall said. “We also made it back to the Final Four last year but lost, so just coming back here and winning it this time is so surreal.” 

Standing in the way Saturday was a Ridgeland team that featured 6-foot-10 senior center Ebo Wilson. Rombaugh said attacking inside against Wilson instead of shooting over him was a deciding factor. 

“We were trying to get to the rim, but it wasn’t going our way, so we were settling for three-pointers and that’s really not our style,” Rombaugh said. “So, we really challenged them to come out and play our style of basketball and started attacking the rim.”

The Titans led 47-43 going into the final quarter, but Olive Branch outscored Ridgeland 16-9 in the final eight minutes. A three-point basket gave the Quistors a 54-53 lead with just over two minutes left, and never trailed from that point. A Wall layup posted a 56-53 lead and with 14.5 seconds left, led 57-56 when Gutierrez was fouled on the inbounds pass after the made second free throw.  Gutierrez knocked down both free throws for the three-point lead.  

“I gotta win it for my team,” Gutierrez said about the important charity tosses. “I’m not gonna let the city down. The team, I cannot let them down like, this is something I’ve wanted for so long and I’ve worked on for so long. I’m not gonna let anybody down so I had to knock those down.”

The last attempt by Ridgeland with 2.8 seconds remaining fell off and the Olive Branch celebration began.  

Javion Stephen led the Quistors in scoring with 13 points, followed by Wall with 12. Caleb Hunt and Reece Garrison added 10 points each for Olive Branch.  Ridgeland was led by Phil Nelson, who scored a game-high 19 points and Stevent Watkins finished with 13. Wilson was held to just 10 points in the loss.  

The title is the second championship in the Gutierrez family, as brother Cesar was part of the 2018 5A title team. But Zahir is glad that his 2024 teammates are now being given the attention they are due.  

“This team is so special and everyone on this team is underrated,” Gutierrez said. “Not one of us was ranked in the top 30 but we’re state champions. That’s how underrated this team was. We don’t care about the ranking, we don’t care about anything but winning.”