ALEXANDRIA — You never forget your first.
Playing in its first championship game, East Ascension made the most of it, defeating Natchitoches Central 37-32 in the LHSAA Class 5A final at the Rapides Coliseum on Saturday night.
“When I first got here in 1997, everyone told me, ‘I’d like to see that day,’ ” Lady Spartans coach Dennis Chandler said. “That day is here right now, and we are very, very proud of that.”
With points at a premium, EA (24-2) took advantage of the Lady Chiefs’ dry spell in the third quarter to score 12 unanswered points — shifting the momentum in its favor on the final day of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Basketball tournament.
The Lady Spartans’ defense limited Natchitoches Central all night — forcing it to shoot 24.1 percent and holding senior guard Jolie Williams to 17 points on 6-of-25 shooting.
“My priority is of us doing what we do, and what we do is we defend,” Chandler said. “We have done that since I’ve been here. Good teams, bad teams, we’re going to play defense. We might not shoot that well, but we’re going to defend.”
Lady Spartans junior guard Tristen Washington earned Most Outstanding Player honors after scoring 14 points and pulling down three rebounds as EA separated itself from the Lady Chiefs.
For Natchitoches Central (28-9), coach Nikki Jones was left searching for answers after guiding her team to its first Class 5A championship game since 2013.
“I thought we played hard tonight, but we didn’t play smart,” NCHS coach Nikki Jones said. “I think the nerves got us here and there off their defense. We tried to take it one-on-one a little too much tonight. We never let our offense develop.”
With it being the first title in school history — and Chandler’s first since back-to-back titles at McCall in 1994 and 1995 — the players were proud of being the first group to bring the title to Gonzales.
“It means a lot,” Washington said.
EA sophomore guard Sadie Williams added, “When we get older and come back to this school, and coach Chandler’s still there, I think it’s going to be known that in 2018, girls basketball won the state championship.”
Chandler lauded his 2018 class for all the hurdles that it took to get here.
“Adversity and perseverance,” Chandler said. “I tell anyone, ‘If you can play for me, you’re a pretty good kid.’ It’s not easy to play for me. I’m demanding on and off the floor. Expectations are high. At our school, it says ‘EA’. That acronym says, ‘East Ascension’, but for me it says, ‘Excellence Always.’ ”