Seven games into the season which all resulted in losses, Abbeville High basketball coach Berwick Hamilton started questioning himself.
For a program that had experienced a losing season the year before and didn’t get a taste of postseason play, Hamilton realized the potential impact of what a 0-7 start could have on the remainder of the season.
“To be honest, I had my doubts,” Hamilton said. “We had one or two kids that quit, including one senior. I knew what I was trying to do with them. Whether they were buying in or not, it hadn’t shown.”
During that difficult seven-game stretch, five of those were against teams from District 3-5A with Abbeville twice getting blown out by the league’s eventual champion, Lafayette High.
The method to Hamilton’s madness was to expose his veteran-laden team to tough competition early in order to strengthen the Wildcats in time to make a run at the District 6-3A championship and make a representable showing in the state playoffs.
Abbeville has managed to accomplish the first part of that objective, having nailed down a share of the District 6-3A title with an opportunity to win it outright Monday when the Wildcats (16-10, 7-1) visit Kaplan (8-14, 3-5) at 7 p.m.
“I thought we could have possibly come out of it at .500,” Hamilton said of the early portion of his schedule. “I still think playing those schools are helping us know. The competition is stiffer.”
Since that inauspicious debut, Abbeville turned around its season with championships in the Vermilion Parish tournament and Vermilion Catholic Yuletide Classic before the start of January.
The Wildcats are riding the crest of a span that includes 16 wins in their past 19 games and six consecutive wins.
Abbeville won its first game of the season — 55-37 over Vermilion Catholic and sent an early message to defending 6-3A champion North Vermilion with a 43-34 win in title game of the parish tournament.
Two comfortable, double-digits wins propelled the Wildcats in the final of the Yuletide event, where they won 35-30 over the host Eagles.
Another positive sign of growth occurred on Jan. 2, when, after losing by eight points at Rayne, Abbeville reversed its fortunes with a 38-29 win over the Wolves. The Wildcats then evened their record at 8-8 with the first of two wins over Franklin.
“Those two tournaments really helped us get us on track and helped them realize their potential,” Hamilton said. “We got on track and got it going.”
Abbeville’s last big nondistrict test against Class 4A’s St. Martinville didn’t end well with a 60-43 setback, and a lot of the goodwill the Wildcats had built up appeared to fade in a 49-45 home district loss to North Vermilion.
The Wildcats turned around four days later with a resounding 83-53 road win over Notre Dame which triggered their current six-game win streak.
Abbeville endured a hard-fought 52-48 home win over Kaplan on Jan. 30 and recaptured the league lead Feb. 10 with a come-from-behind 51-47 effort at North Vermilion, rallying from an 11-point deficit in the third quarter.
“I think you can relate it back to having to play the competition we played previously,” Hamilton said. “We just had a belief and a determination. We overcame adversity because of the teams we played at the beginning of the year.”
Senior guards Isaiah Antoine, the team’s leading scorer at 15 points, delivered a couple of key 3-pointers in the team’s comeback at North Vermilion and a three-point play with 1:23 left from point guard Dre’vian Evans gave the Wildcats the lead for good.
They’re two of Abbeville’s all-senior starting lineup, which also features forward Jourdan Banks and center Clements Dorsey — the team’s two returning starters this season — along with forward Clyde Mitchell.
“I don’t think I’ve had a team have a 0-7 start and then contend for the playoffs,” Hamilton said. “That’s a major accomplishment by these kids. I tell them all the time we’re the biggest obstacle in our way. I do what I do, but they’re the ones that have been holding this together.”