Rebels fall in semifinal heartbreaker

Published 12:02 am Saturday, March 10, 2018

LAKE CHARLES — The bus ride home from Lake Charles to Reserve was quiet and somber as the Riverside Academy Rebels basketball team felt the impact of an abrupt end to a season that was supposed to stretch to the championship round.

Star player Jared Butler fouled out with 1.7 seconds remaining in the semifinal game, allowing Episcopal to sink two last-minute free throws and crush Riverside’s state title dreams.

The game ended in a 68-67 defeat, and the Running Rebels stood in disbelief. As it sank in, the seniors’ stunned reaction gave way to sadness that won’t fade anytime soon, according to head coach Timmy Byrd.

Riverside Academy seniors pictured, from left, include Jared Butler, Jalen Banks, Jordan Loving, Garland Robertson, LeBoe Bridges and Jeremiah Bigham. The players were celebrating their senior night during the quarterfinal playoff game against Calvary Baptist. (Photo submitted by RA)

“I think this one will linger, especially for our seniors,” Byrd said, adding the young men on the team will never forget the final quarter of their last high school game.

He only wishes it were a happier ending for the tight-knit seniors, who battled through thick and thin for more than four years and expected Wednesday’s game to end in a ‘W.’

The loss was especially hard on Butler, who said earlier this week that a season worth of hard work means nothing if it amounts in a loss.

Butler contributed 25 points, leading the team in scoring, but Byrd said the boys struggled to acclimate to judgment calls throughout the game.

“We just never adjusted, and the game was called two different ways,” Byrd said. “They called the game really tight when we were on defense, and they called it very loose when we were on offense.”

The Running Rebels struggled defensively without Garland Robinson present to guard against Episcopal’s hard-working point guard.

“We realized Jared Butler’s our superstar, but Garland Robertson’s the heart and soul of our team on the defensive end,” Byrd said. “Their point guard had the game of his life, and we did not have an answer for him. He played one of those perfect games and shot a lot of free throws. Jared Butler, for us, took the ball to the goal and didn’t shoot one free throw.”

Byrd said he can’t discredit No. 4 seed Episcopal, as they played an excellent game.

The Running Rebels picked the wrong time to not play their best game, Byrd said.

But life goes on. The sun came up the next morning, and several team members have college athletics to look forward to, whether it’s basketball or football.

“It’s time for them to look at the next chapters in their lives and use this as a learning experience,” Byrd said.

The six seniors, Butler, Robertson, Jalen Banks, LeBoe Bridges, Jeremiah Bigham and Jordan Loving, gave everything of themselves for the team, Byrd said.

Riverside finished 32-2 and though the Rebels didn’t accomplish their goal of winning the state championship, Byrd said this year’s squad accomplished more than statistics reveal. He said it was a blessing to watch them grow.

“Not only are they very good basketball players, but they’re even better human beings,” Byrd said. “I’m very proud of this team. They were very professional in their daily work ethic, and I could not have coached a better group of players.”

Returning players need to learn from this experience and fight hard to make sure they don’t relive it, Byrd said.

With Gage Larvadain, Isaiah Bigham and Kash Foley returning as up-and-coming stars on the team alongside a strong JV roster moving into varsity, Byrd is hopeful for the future of the program.