Rebels shoot for semifinal redemption: Chemistry & toughness highlight special squad

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, March 7, 2018

LAKE CHARLES — Riverside Academy senior Jared Butler came up huge against Calvary Baptist during the boys basketball quarterfinals, scoring 37 points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out seven assists to help the Running Rebels secure a 85-44 victory and a seat in the semifinals.

The highlight, according to head coach Timmy Byrd, came near the end, when Butler brought the crowd out of their seats with a skillful two-hand dunk.

On the opposite end, a disappointing start to the game saw second leading scorer Garland Robertson sustain an injury, making his ability to participate in the remaining playoff rounds uncertain.

The Running Rebels face sound defensive team Episcopal in a semifinal blitz at 11:30 a.m. today at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles.

If successful, Riverside Academy will take on the winner of this afternoon’s game between Metairie Park Country Day and Dunham, two of the most powerful programs in Division III.

With a season record of 32 wins and a single 64-68 loss courtesy of the Country Day Cajuns, the Running Rebels are eager to set the record straight with another win.

Potential opponent Dunham ranks No. 2 in the division and has a secret weapon in a powerhouse junior player ranked No. 1 in the state.

Riverside Academy has its own rankings to boast, as the team has consistently been rated No. 1 in Louisiana and in the top 25 in the nation by MaxPreps, judged by wins and strength of schedule.

Jordan Loving

Byrd said this year’s squad is one of the four best he’s had in 22 years of coaching.

Earlier this season, he compared the team’s strong start to the “Von Julien, Jordan Andrews, Malik Crowfield, Herb McGee era.”

Senior Jared Butler said this year’s squad of six seniors is bonded by experience.

“Our chemistry and toughness is going to separate us from the other teams,” Butler said. “We’ve been playing with each other since eighth grade. We’ve been through the storm and the ups and downs.”

Jalen Banks, a senior known for consistent energy, said having a close connection leads to easier court communication.

“Since we all know each other, it makes the game easier and it feels better,” Banks said. “This team is special in many ways most people wouldn’t understand, and it’s a credit to coach Timmy and the leadership we have.”

Banks said the team is bringing its trademarked focused strategy into the Episcopal game.

Last year’s semifinal loss was devastating, according to Byrd, since it was the only time in the past nine years that Riverside Academy did not advance to the championship round.

He’s expecting different results this time around. Having been the LHSAA Top 28 20 out of 22 years that he’s coached, successful playoff runs are an old song and dance for Byrd, and he’s more excited for the players.

Byrd said the gameplay this season has been top notch, and last week’s quarterfinal game was no exception.

“I’m very happy with the way the guys played,” Byrd said. “The energy was great, they responded well and they were sharp. We built this program from the foundation up, and it has endured the test of time.

“Good programs are built upon good players, so you have to credit the guys. They’ve been playing really well together for the past four or five years.”

Seniors Butler, Banks, Robertson, Jordan Loving, LeBoe Bridges, Jeremiah Bigham and juniors Kash Foley and Isaiah Bigham have been the true stars of the season, Byrd said.

However, Butler stressed the season is not over.

“It’s been great so far, but if we don’t finish it out and win the championship, then it’s all for nothing,” he said.