LAKE CHARLES — Riverside Academy will go for its third straight state championship and fifth in the past six years on Saturday when it takes on Lakeview for the boys Class 2A title.
The Rebels got a reminder in Thursday’s semifinals that a “3-peat” won’t be a cakewalk.
Riverside beat North Caddo 79-71, marking just the third time this season a Louisiana team played Riverside to single digits. Karr and Natchitoches Central were the others.
“When you get to the Top 28, it’s never easy,” Rebels coach Timmy Byrd said. “Sometimes we may have made it look easy, but the truth of the matter is it’s not easy. We have been fortunate to play our best ball when we get here.”
Saturday’s game between top-seeded Riverside (29-6) and No. 2 Lakeview (26-5) is a rematch of the 2014 championship game that the Rebels won 88-75. Tip-off at Burton Coliseum is set for 4 p.m.
“It’s a team we can’t take lightly,” Byrd said. “They took us to the wire last year, but I think our kids will be ready to play. We definitely aren’t going to overlook them.”
Riverside is coming in off a semifinal win where it made 12 first-half 3-pointers and then fought off a North Caddo comeback. The Rebels eventually cooled off, finishing the game 15 of 33 from beyond the arc.
But it was losing the rebounding battle in the game that concerned Byrd the most.
“I’m disappointed about that because that’s one of the things we usually win,” he said.
Junior guard Herb McGee said that will be a point of emphasis Saturday against the Gators, whose shortest starter is listed at 6-foot-3.
“We just want to come out, share the ball and rebound better,” McGee said.
The Gators boast a pair of 6-foot-7 starters and a 6-foot-3 guard in Tay Hardy, who is averaging 22.7 points per game. Hardy poured in 29 points in the semifinals against Episcopal and was 6 of 10 on 3-pointers.
“North Caddo and Lakeview are different teams,” Byrd said. “North Caddo has a dominant inside player. Lakeview doesn’t.
“They have a lot of big kids and they have a guard that’s really good and athletic, but he’s streaky.”
The Rebels, meanwhile, rely on their guard heavy offense with a slew of deadly shooters in McGee, Malik Crowfield, Von Julien and Jordan Andrews.
Freshman Jared Butler has given the Rebels a big boost off the bench.
“Jared’s been big down the stretch,” Byrd said. “Midseason, he came on strong for us and he gives us five strong shooters on the court. He is playing well above his class. He is very mature for a 14-year-old.”
While Butler still has three more seasons to play, it will be the final game for starters Julien, Crowfield, Andrews and center Joe Anderson. Reserves Darrion Cook, Jake Venus and Richie George are also seniors.
“My thoughts are just to try to finish out and get a win,” Julien said. “I’m not worrying about the stats. I’m just wanting to play as hard as I can my last high school game and having fun out there with my boys.”
“It means a lot to be in the championship with the same people,” Anderws said. “We want to come out and be more focused than we were (in the semifinals) and get this last ‘W’ as a team.”
Byrd knows it won’t be easy, although it often appears to be. The Rebels haven’t lost a game to a team from Louisiana since late in 2013.
“Our guys have a bull’s-eye on their back and we come out and take everybody’s best shot,” he said.