LAKE CHARLES — No. 13 East Ascension gave top-seeded Natchitoches Central an early scare but ultimately fell short of a trip to the Class 5A state title game Tuesday night with a 66-49 loss to the Chiefs at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Boys Top 28 tournament at the Burton Coliseum.
The Spartans overcame a slow start and used a second-quarter run to take a lead into halftime, but NCHS proved to be too much as it secured its second straight trip to the Class 5A championship game.
“Obviously a tough loss, going in at halftime with the lead, losing that and ultimately losing the game,” EAHS coach Barry Whittington, Jr. said. “I’m proud of this team, and I don’t feel like it was a surprise that we were here. These guys put the work in to be here.”
Natchitoches Central controlled things early with a high-intensity defensive effort that forced the Spartans to commit eight turnovers and limited them to just four shots in the first quarter as the Chiefs jumped out to a 14-3 lead.
The last of those shots turned the tide, however, as EAHS junior guard Le’Aaron Cain hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer, giving the Spartans a spark that carried over into the second quarter.
EAHS hit four 3-pointers in the second quarter, with the last by Cain, this time from about five feet behind the 3-point line, to give the Spartans a 24-22 lead, their first of the game with a little less than three minutes before halftime.
“It’s hard to simulate that type of pressure with a group of young teenagers, so I think that got to us a little bit,” Whittington said. “But we made some adjustments and we were able to come back and put up a fight towards the end of the half.”
The Spartans used the run to outscore Natchitoches Central 20-10 in the second quarter and take a 26-24 lead into halftime against the defending state runner-up Chiefs. But EAHS’s lead didn’t last long.
The Chiefs tied the game with an Austin Guy layup 10 seconds into the third quarter, and they led a 28-26 lead 30 seconds later when Brandon Rachal scored in transition.
NCHS then slowly built its lead, and the Spartans never recovered.
“The adjustment (the Chiefs) made in the second half was they face-guarded our point guard Jimel London,” Whittington said. “So we had guys that normally don’t have to create their own shots forced to create their own shots.”
Cain led the Spartans with a game-high 23 points, while the trio of Guy, Rachal and guard Brian White lifted the Chiefs to the win, shooting a combined 17-of-23 from the field and scoring a combined 49 points.
Whittington said the loss was hard to take, but remained optimistic about their chances of returning next season.
“I feel like this was a good experience for us and all that, but we’re going to try and come back next year,” Cain said.