NEW IBERIA — For the past seven seasons there has been something missing from inside Catholic High of New Iberia’s gymnasium.
The facility’s walls are plastered with banners honoring the school’s athletic teams’ accomplishments, with the school’s baseball and football teams proudly displaying an abundance of district titles. Yet, on the boys basketball banner there are only two entries, 2007 and 2008.
The Panthers claimed their second-straight district crown and advanced to the state quarterfinals in 2008, when the team was still in Class 3A. In the next six seasons, Catholic-NI made the playoffs four times, including the past three years in Class 2A but failed to advance out of the first round any of those years.
In addition to that, Catholic-NI failed to claim another district championship, but that all changed this year as the Vikings claimed the District 5-2A crown. Next up for the team is a home playoff game Friday at 7 p.m. Friday as No. 12 Catholic-NI (21-6) hosts No. 21 St. James (10-19) in the Class 2A playoffs.
“I made them well aware about the gap in district championships between 2008 and now,” Catholic-NI coach and 1990 alum Josh Guilbeau said. “We talked about the seniors leaving their mark. Our goal for this season was to add to that banner, and now we have a goal for the playoffs. I have told the guys let’s get that first win.”
The Panthers are riding a seven-game winning streak heading into the playoffs. For the group of seniors like Austin Lipari and Logan Fowler the chance to win their first playoff game in front of their home fans is something they are thrilled about.
“Were excited,” senior forward Austin Lipari said. “The last couple of years we have been away, so we are definitely going to have an advantage.”
Catholic-NI came close to ending its playoff drought last season when the team led in the fourth quarter at St. James. But the Panthers ultimately lost 61-54. Point guard Jimmy Touchet blamed himself for the team’s defeat.
“Last year we were up in the game with five minutes left,” Touchet said. “I made a couple turnovers that cost our team the game. I get another chance to help our team beat them.”
This year’s Panthers team is far different from last year’s team.
First, Guilbeau had to replace his two post players. Jason Pellerin opted to focus solely on football his senior season as he prepared to play college at Ole Miss, while Cortland Parr suffered a season-ending injury.
“It was tough,” Guilbeau said. “I didn’t know what our identity was going to be. I really didn’t know until halfway through the year. We are undersized but we are a team that looks to run and push the tempo when we have the opportunity. But we like to grind it out in a half-court set.”
The team did return several guards including Nick Brown, who averages a team-high 20 points per game, Touchet, Fowler and the 6-foot Lipari who was moved to center this season.
“We are a small team,” said Touchet, who averages 11 points. “But we got a lot of heart, so it doesn’t matter who we play or how big they are.”
A big plus for the Panthers this year has been the play of senior transfer Jashawn Noel from nearby Westgate. Noel, who was friends with Brown and AAU teammate of Touchet, made a switch of his own from guard to forward.
“It was more about Jashawn’s character than anything else,” Guilbeau said.
“It would be something difficult if he wasn’t the type of person to blend in, but he came in an adapted. It tells a lot about his character.”
When asked what his small-sized team needs to do to pick up its first playoff win in seven seasons, Guilbeau said that his team will need to dominate in rebounding. The Panthers coach said his team has the right mindset to do just that.
“Were not the most athletic team, but we play hard,” Guilbeau said. “If we do that Friday, we can accomplish all of our goals.”