Seniors Eric Reed, Kyle Ross and Michael Douglas III are the remaining links to the origin of University High’s recent run of postseason excellence.
Each player has grown during their careers, helping the Cubs maintain their status as one of the state’s top programs.
With second-seeded University (21-12) attempting to win its fourth state championship in five years, the Cubs will invariably lean on the aforementioned trio in Friday’s Division II select title matchup with No. 1 St. Thomas More (23-9) at 8 p.m. at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles.
“It’s just the expectations we have for the guys in the program,” U-High coach Joe Spencer said. “They know what teams have done in the past. They want to be part of that and want to keep it going. They also want to do it on their own. They want to be the main figures.”
Top-seeded Jehovah-Jireh (28-13) is back in the Division V select championship game and in search of its first state title, facing third-seeded Crescent City (24-13) at 10 a.m.
The Warriors, who advanced with a 75-53 semifinal win over fourth-seeded Episcopal School of Acadiana, lost 69-64 in overtime to the Pioneers in last year’s title game.
“Coach talks about it being last year,” Jehovah-Jireh senior forward Trenton Payne said. “It’s last year, but it’s still in our hearts. We still feel the pain. They are a good team, but we gave that one up. We lost that game.”
Said fellow senior guard Donald Johnson III: “We’re still hungry. We know we haven’t reached the ultimate goal of winning a state championship yet.”
Despite a distinguished tradition that includes 21 state-tournament trips, highlighted by five state championships, White Castle has the opportunity to accomplish something no other team has in school history with back-to-back LHSAA titles.
The No. 4 Bulldogs (23-8) face No. 2 Delhi (29-9) for the Class 1A nonselect state title at 2 p.m.
“During the summer, we were hungry,” said guard Kenneth Bracken, one of eight WCHS seniors. “We always had that mentality, and once playoff time hit, we were going to get back. That was always our goal: to repeat and win those back-to-back titles.”
Bracken scored a team-high 17 points, including some critical free throws, and Tre’ Melancon added 15 in White Castle’s 61-58 semifinal upset Tuesday of No. 1 Tensas. The Bulldogs won last year’s state crown 60-47 over the Panthers.
“This is has always been our goal, what we’ve been dreaming of,” Bracken said. “Of all the teams that have been there and won, they were great teams. We’re trying to make history for our town.”
U-High’s prolific march through the postseason the past five years began with a 64-62 Class 2A semifinal loss to Riverside Academy in 2013.
The Cubs then reeled off 15 consecutive victories and three straight Class 3A state championships, pushing the school’s total of state championships to seven. De La Salle’s 81-69 triumph in last year’s Division II state championship game over U-High ended the Cubs’ streak of 17 consecutive postseason victories and three successive state titles.
“It’s been a fun season,” said Reed, who scored 27 in Tuesday’s 64-59 semifinal win over De La Salle. “We’ve got a lot of young guys, and we like seeing them excited because this is their first time going through this. It also feels great to be back again. Through my years, we’ve been here every time. It’s all some of us know.”
Advocate sportswriter Robin Fambrough contributed to this story