Tuesday night’s matchup between Christian Life and Episcopal isn’t just a game between a pair of Class 2A’s top basketball programs, and it isn’t just the start of District 8-2A play.
For the Crusaders and the Knights, the game will go a long way in determining who holds the high ground in the race for the district crown and who spends the next month playing catch-up.
“We try to do it one game at a time, but it is a big game,” Episcopal coach Chris Beckman said. “If you’re fortunate enough to win this first game, it kind of gets you playing them out of the way and up on some other teams. But losing to them Tuesday night doesn’t end the season either.”
Episcopal (20-3) won last year’s meeting between the programs 52-49 and enters this year with a slightly higher ranking, albeit by the narrowest of margins, one spot above Christian Life (16-2) in the LHSAA unofficial power rankings at No. 7.
But this will be the first year district bragging rights are on the line after the Crusaders made the jump from Class 1A this season.
CLA has relied heavily on its French Caribbean duo of Ludovic Kader and Francois-Xavier Roges — a pair of transfers from the island of Martinique — this season, but coach Stephen Dale said the objective all season has been to spread the ball out to other players more often.
Episcopal will counteract Kader and Roges with a pair of double-digit scorers in Chris Beckman Jr. and Kevin Tripeaux, who average 21.5 and 14.5 points per game.
“It’s one of those games where both teams are pretty familiar with each other,” Dale said. “Neither side is going to surprise the other. It’s going to be a game that comes down to who is going to execute and who can outlast the other in terms of finishing strong in the fourth quarter.”
Over in class 5A, No. 7 East Ascension picks up where it left off last year in District 5 against No. 11 Catholic High.
The Spartans had a chance to play spoiler to Catholic’s district title with a seven-point lead late in last year’s regular season finale. But a last-minute run and a shot at the buzzer left East Ascension with a sour taste in its mouth.
“You hate ending the season with a loss, especially a buzzer-beater,” East Ascension coach Barry Whittington said. “It’s been somewhat of a motivation for our success this season, but it’s not the sole reason why we wanted to get better. We wanted to get better see whatever potential we had maxed.”
This year, though, the Spartans (19-4) start their district schedule with Catholic (15-5), and instead of the Bears trying to clinch a title, it’s East Ascension entering the game as arguably the district’s hottest team. Catholic, on the other hand, is trying to right the ship back from a 6-4 run over the past month.
Under normal circumstances the game, being held at Catholic, would bode well for the Bears, but coach Mark Cascio said playing at home might be the problem.
Catholic has only played seven games on its home court this season, going 0-2 since returning from winter break.
“We went a long stretch not playing at home,” Cascio said. “As weird as it sounds, I think we got used to playing on the road, and we had to make an adjustment playing at home.”