Eagles making themselves known in first year in LHSAA

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 10, 1999

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / March 10, 1999

RESERVE – If you had asked fans of Louisiana high school basketball before the 1998-99 season about the Reserve Christian Eagles, you would probably have gotten a quizzical look.

But some of the best teams in the state have quickly learned who the Eagles are. In just their first season of playing in the Louisiana HighSchool Athletic Association, the Eagles have soared all the way to the Top 28 Tournament in Lafayette.

Reserve Christian will play No. 1-ranked Gibsland-Coleman today in theClass B semifinals. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m in the Cajundome. TheEagles come into the game with a 30-15 record while Gibsland-Coleman enters with a 44-3 mark.

In reaching the Top 28, the Eagles have accomplished something that no St.

John Parish school has done since 1966 and no River Parishes school has done since Lutcher in the mid 1970s.

“It’s awesome,” Aaron Vogel, a junior on the team, said. “I love it becausewe are getting a lot recognition as a small school. We are coming in andgetting to the Top 28.”Reserve Christian made a name for itself in the Louisiana Christian Schools Athletic Association this decade, winning the Class A championship in 1990 and the Class AA championship in 1992 and finishing as the state runners-up last year.

But in between those years, the program had some hard times, going 4-12 four years ago. Timmy Byrd was brought in to coach and created adifferent mindset in the players. His first season, Byrd led the team to a13-11 record. Byrd said that was the start of the journey that leads tosuccess.

“It started a foundation,” Byrd said. “The kids that year have a lot to dowith where we are today.”Where the Eagles are is on the verge of the semifinals after going through a schedule that included Ridgewood, Phoenix and Parkview Baptist. Of theteam’s 15 losses, 14 came against teams that would eventually play in the postseason. The Eagles captured the District 13-B title, winning key roadgames at both Mount Hermon and Maurepas.

The Eagles opened the playoffs with a 73-65 win at home against Georgetown. A 74-44 victory on the road at Episcopal-Acadiana followed,setting up a quarterfinal game at home against Bethany Christian last Friday night.

The Eagles trailed 43-42 at halftime as Caleb Dunn scored 25 points for the Lions, 19 in the first quarter alone. Reserve Christian bounced back totake a 63-56 lead at the end of the third quarter and then wore down the Lions in the fourth, outscoring them 30-17 in the period. Eric McClain ledthe Eagles with 22 points, 15 in the second half. Addison Ellis added 14points. Dunn finished with a game-high 37 points for the Lions.The team that Reserve Christian will play today is quite familiar with the Top 28 Tournament. Gibsland-Cole-man has won five to six statechampionships since 1986. The three teams that beat them this season arestill alive in the tournament. The Bulldogs are coming off a 68-59 winagainst No-2 ranked Pitkin in the quarterfinals.

Gibsland-Coleman is led by its six-foot-five senior point guard, one of the top 50 players in the country who has already signed with Texas A & M.

The Bulldogs play a full-court man defense starting with the inbounds pass and face guard down the court.

“They are number one for a reason,” assistant coach Ronnie Byrd, who is making his first trip to the tournament in his 41 years in the game, said.

“They have an all-American playing with them and he can really play the game.”According to Vogel and Timmy Byrd, defense, limiting turnovers and rebounds will be the keys to the game. Reserve Christian uses a 1-3-1zone defense and averaged 36 rebounds per game this season.

“Our offense comes from our defense,” Vogel said.

Byrd realizes his team is being regarded as a cinderella one in the tournament but said his team will enter like they do everyone – with confidence that they can win.

“I am thrilled for the kids,” Byrd said. “This is about their hard work. Theyare deserving and good rewards came from that. But their work and ourwork is not through.”The winner of today’s game will play Epps, which defeated Lacassine, 67- 62, Mon-day, in the Class B finals Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at the Cajundome.Tickets for the Top 28 are $6 per session and can be purchased at the Cajundome box office.

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