‘Cats, Rebels, Rams each set for 1st round
Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, February 25, 2014
By RYAN ARENA
LAPLACE — On paper, it’s not the ideal draw for a high seed: Class 5A No. 6 seed East St. John is slated to host No. 26 seed Central Lafourche at 7 p.m. Friday night in the opening round of the state playoffs, the Tarpons the only team to hand ESJ a district loss this season.
But while East St. John coach Yussef Jasmine expressed a great deal of respect for his team’s first round foe, the confident coach welcomed the challenge with open arms.
“As a coach, in a sense, it takes a lot off your plate (to face a district opponent),” said Jasmine. “So often, you draw a team from up north, that you haven’t played before, and you’ve got to scramble to gather as much information as possible. These two teams know one another. And we’ve got respect for one another.”
Central Lafourche (17-10) beat East St. John 65-57 at Central Lafourche on Feb. 4. The wildcats won the first matchup between the teams on Jan. 10, 62-57 in Reserve.
East St. John won District 7-5A, going 13-1 in the league. ESJ won 11 of those games by double figures. Central Lafourche went 10-4 in 7-5A, winning its last six games to capture second place in the district outright.
Jasmine said that even before the draw came out, Central Lafourche was on his coaching staff’s radar.
“We’re sitting in the office and I’m saying, ‘Man, Central is playing really well,’” said Jasmine. “I didn’t think we played our best ball against them. But our guys are so hungry, so confident in themselves right now, that I feel like we’re a much different, better team. Of course, so are they.’
“It’s going to be a good test. The good thing is, to get to where we want to be, you need to be tested time and again. Every game is a test for the next one, and when you pass a harder test, you’re left better prepared.”
He said Central Lafourche’s strengths include toughness, both physical and mental.
“They play extremely hard. They don’t have that one 6-7, 6-8 kid, but they rebound very well as a team,” said Jasmine. “They’re really athletic and their coach does an excellent job.”
The Wildcats (23-5) are 16-2 in their last 18 games, with only losses to Central Lafourche and Riverside over that span.
Among Central Lafourche’s top threats is Quade Williams, who played well in both games against the Wildcats. Williams scored 17 points in Central’s victory and 16 in its loss.
Riverside, meanwhile, earned the top seed in Class 2A by a wide margin — the Rebels held a power points lead of 2.03 over second-seeded Lakeview at the regular season’s end — and will host Ferriday this Friday night at 7 p.m.
The Rebels (28-3) have won 23 games in a row entering the postseason and are a favorite to earn their second consecutive state championship. All but two rotation players from the 2012-13 championship club are back this season, and Riverside appears to be peaking, having won seven of its final eight games by 19 points or more.
Of Riverside’s 23 consecutive wins, 20 have come by double digits.
Rebels coach Timmy Byrd doesn’t have enough fingers to support his next championship win, which would be his 11th. The coach seems primed to add another regardless, but he promises his team will take nothing for granted.
“We’re not looking at the seed of any opponent. We’re treating all of them like we’re taking on number one,” said Byrd. “These guys have been there before and they know what goes into winning a championship. We know that when you take a team for granted, that’s when you end up going down to the wire and that’s when you get beat.”
Ferriday finished the regular season with a record of 7-15 and finished fourth place in District 2-2A.
Beyond the opening round, Byrd said that a potential second round game at Homer could prove to be a test, a long trip followed by a contest with a long, athletic team. No. 14 seed St. James will open with Catholic New Iberia — Byrd said the district rival Wildcats will be a tough out for anyone. St. Thomas Aquinas, last year’s state runner-up to the Rebels, could be a quarterfinal game. And third seeded Dunham, winners of 14 straight, would offer a familiar challenge — Dunham pushed Riverside in a competitive 2012 quarterfinal game, a 67-59 Rebel win at Riverside.
Second-seeded Lakeview, though, is a team Byrd believes would offer the greatest test, a 24-4 team with a number of impressive victories under their belt.
“They split with Peabody, and their win came by 17,” said Byrd. “You don’t beat Peabody by 17 and not be a really good team.”
While West St. John lost a close district tiebreaker to Ascension Catholic last Tuesday, the Rams have arguably playing their best ball of the season over the past three weeks, winning four of five going into that contest, all by double figures.
The Rams (10-11) earned the 19th seed in Class 1A and will travel to No. 14 Southern Lab (12-12) for a 7 p.m. tipoff this Friday night.
Juan Joseph took over the head coaching reins with two games remaining in the regular season, after former Rams coach LaVanta Davis stepped down for personal reasons. Davis and Joseph have kept in contact, though.
“Coach Davis got a chance to check out (Southern Lab) when they played against White Castle,” said Joseph. “So he had some insight … They’re very long, a big club. They play a 3-2 zone, and they’ve got so much athleticism and length that it kind of reminds you of Syracuse. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s to be expected. We knew if we were seeded 16th, 17th, 18th or 19th, it wasn’t going to be easy.”
The emergence of forward Morell Bartholomew has been a key to the Rams strong play of late, as has the sharpshooting of senior guard Quan Scott.
Joseph said that even more than their offense, defense will lay the base for those players to lead the Rams to victory.
“The biggest thing with them is I don’t want to see their offense dictate their defense,” said Joseph. “When those guys play defense, that ignites their offense. They’re natural scorers. They can feed off of it. The last few games, they’ve played very well at the defensive end.”
That also goes for the Rams as a team. Joseph said that strong defensive play and rebounding coupled with a willingness to attack the rim is the recipe for his team to advance.
“If we do those things, play defense, get those ‘and-ones’, I like our chances,” said Joseph. “We’ll have a chance to have a lot of success.”