Lower seeds try to turn into road warriors as girls basketball playoffs start Thursday night _lowres

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- East Ascension coach Dennis Chandler: They’re 27-1 for a reason … Mandeville is a very good team. But if we can eliminate mistakes and stay calm, there’s a chance. All I look for is a chance to win in the fourth quarter.'

Dennis Chandler isn’t the kind of coach who babies his players.

So when Chandler found out his East Ascension team got the No. 32 seed and would face top-seeded Mandeville (27-1) to open the girls basketball playoff Thursday night, he cut to the chase.

“They’re 27-1 for a reason … Mandeville is a very good team,” Chandler said. “But if we can eliminate mistakes and stay calm, there’s a chance. All I look for is a chance to win in the fourth quarter.

“As long as you’re in you have a chance to win, regardless of the odds.”

EAHS (14-12) travels to play Mandeville at 6:30 p.m. in first-round Class 5A action.

The Spartans are part of a diverse group of road warriors, lower seeds who open the playoffs on the road. The circumstances don’t overwhelm Chandler, a 33-year coaching veteran.

Chandler has seen both sides now. He’s coached teams that have been lower seeds and led Tallulah-based McCall, now Madison Parish High, to back-to-back Class 3A state titles in 1993-94.

“The big advantage the best teams have is this: they hate to lose and they take no one for granted,” Chandler said. “There’s no such thing as a letdown for a team like that. They may play better on some nights than others, but they find ways to win.”

What about the Spartans? What can they do to give themselves a chance with a lineup that includes three freshmen in prominent roles?

“There are different levels of experience,” Chandler said. “We have seniors playing who are in their fourth year of organized basketball. My rule has always been that what grade you’re in doesn’t matter, the best play. And it’s been a learning process … a gradual one.”

Even with the youth and inexperience the Spartans are eight games better than their 8-16 record from a year ago. Freshmen Alynzia Morris, Einiaa McZeal and junior Sharan Turner all average between seven and nine points per game. Another freshman, Tristen Washington, is the point guard.

“We’ve improved along the way,” Chandler said. “Everybody is 0-0 going into the playoffs. It’s a new season, and you see who takes advantage of it.”

The storyline is different for two other local road warriors. Walker (20-13) was the Class 5A runner-up last year. This time around, WHS is seeded No. 17 and opens the playoffs on the road at No. 16 Helen Cox (18-8) at 6 p.m. Belaire (14-9), seeded 21st in 4A, travels to Lafayette to play No. 12 Northside (26-5) also at 6 p.m.

“We started 6-6 and turned things around to get to where we are,” Walker coach Korey Arnold said. “I like our chances, and I think we match up with Helen Cox. They prefer to shoot from the perimeter and don’t force it inside, which is good for us because we don’t have as much height.

“The team that wins is more than likely going to be the one that is able to knock down shots at key times.”

Nicholls State signee Keeona Brown leads Walker with an 18.0 scoring average, while Krystal Hutchinson adds 10 per game.

Meanwhile, Belaire coach Ella Reado is preparing for a foe she knows with a team that has little experience. Lone senior Demetria Wren leads the way with an 18-point scoring average.

“We have six freshmen, so there’s a learning curve,” Reado said. “I’ve been reminding them this is not a field trip. We’re going out of town to play a game. We’ll probably even do a bag check to make sure everybody has their shoes, etc.

“Two years ago we played Northside, and they’re going to do what they do.

“We’ll need to run the floor and understand they’ll try to slow it up. All I want is for them to play hard and do their best.”