It took the No. 1-ranked team in 5A to do it, but the No. 13 East Ascension Spartans’ run at the state title in basketball ended with a loss to the Natchitoches Central Chiefs 66-49 at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Boys Top 28 tournament at the Burton Coliseum.

In the first quarter, the Chiefs’ sticky defense led to more turnovers than the Spartans could overcome. That defense held EA to only four shots and led to a 14-6 score at the end. On the positive end for the Spartans, on the last of the four shots, junior guard Le’Aaron Cain hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer. That ignited a spark that gave the Spartans some momentum going into the second quarter.

That momentum spurred EA to hit four 3-pointers in the second quarter to outscore Natchitoches Central 20-10. That gave the Spartans a 26-24 lead going into halftime against the defending state runner-up Chiefs.

The lead the Spartans held at the half didn’t last too long as the Chiefs tied the game with a layup 10 seconds into the third quarter. NCH took the lead 28-26 a few seconds later when they scored in transition after a turnover and never looked back.

“In the second half, we weren’t able to adjust to their adjustments and committed a bunch of costly turnovers. I think we did a good job defensively, but they converted a lot in transition off of our turnovers,” head coach Barry Whittington said. “This last game was pretty tough for us. We go in leading at halftime and had some momentum and then see it fade away. It was tough.”

Like all season long, Cain led all scorers with a game-high 23 points.

“I think we had a pretty successful season. Last year we didn’t make the playoffs, and this year we were able to make the Top 28. Think we did a pretty good job of developing our guys into better players,” Whittington said. “Next year, we’ll return all but one player. So the expectation would have to be that we try and make another run it. I don’t think I’ll shy away from saying that we want to be champions. We’ll roll up our sleeves and get back to work. The kids got a taste of playing on the big stage, and I think they will work extremely hard to get back there.”