The Lusher Lions and Sophie Wright Warriors are headed where no previous boys basketball teams from these uptown schools previously have ventured.
Crosstown neighbor, McDonogh 35, is making just its second appearance.
The LHSAA boys basketball tournament that tips off Monday with a six-day run at McNeese State’s Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles.
Lusher (22-10) is the first of the New Orleans area newbies scheduled to continue its pursuit of their first state basketball championship. The Lions’ debut comes at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday when the No. 4 seed take on top-seeded St. Thomas More (22-9) in a Division II semifinal.
Sophie Wright (30-5) follows at 8 p.m. Wednesday when the third-seeded Warriors face No. 2 Peabody (33-2) in the Class 3A semifinals.
McDonogh 35 (20-14) marks its second pilgrimage earlier on Tuesday when the No. 18 seeded Roneagles face No. 3 Woodlawn-Shreveport (30-5) at 3 p.m. in a Class 4A semifinal.
“We’d never won two games in the playoffs before this, so I’m very excited for my guys,’’ Lusher coach Hunter Higgins said after the Lions defeated No. 5 St. Louis 50-44, Friday at Lusher. “It’s unbelievable. The gym was packed. The school really hasn’t had anything like this (previously). It’s an arts school, so it’s a super exciting moment for the school.’’
A District 10-3A wild card, the Lions employ a tight seven-player rotation that features three returning starters in senior guard/forward Rylan Theyard, junior forward Ian Kirsch and junior guard Nolan Hall. Kirsch scored a team-high 16 points Friday against No. 5 St. Louis.
“We’ve got a group of guys who all like each other,’’ said Higgins, Lusher’s first and only boys basketball coach. “They all play hard. I’ve had more talented groups. But they’re a really competitive group. Kirsch and Theyard are really good leaders.
“For us it’s about the defensive end. We’ve got to keep the ball in front of us. We’re very defensive-minded. We want to keep the game in the 40s and 50s. That’s important for us. We’ve got some kids who can hit shots. But to beat St. Thomas More, we’re going to have to play really, really good.’’
Sophie Wright's previous best in its seven-year history came last season when the Warriors reached the Class 2A quarterfinals. They return all five starters from last year’s 27-10 team that competed in a district that included eventual Division III state champion Country Day and Division III semifinalist Riverside.
“In a nutshell, it has been pretty much surreal watching these kids come in as freshmen, buying into the program, buying into the culture,’’ said Wright coach Jason Bertrand, who is completing his fifth season. “The first year we didn’t have a gym, but they didn’t whine. They didn’t complain. So to see their development, it’s been remarkable.
“Everything they’re earning they worked for. I like to use a slogan, ‘We’ve gotten out of the mud. We’ve planted a seed and it’s growing.' The kids love each other. They trust each other, and our chemistry is probably the strength of our team.’’
The Warriors beat No. 11 Crowley 97-59 in a quarterfinal Friday night. Forward Gregory Hammond Jr.’s 28 points led a contingent of four double-digit scorers. The District 9-3A champions, who are riding a 10-game winning streak, face a Peabody team that handed them their last loss about seven weeks ago. The 64-57 decision came on the Warhorses’ home court in Alexandria on Jan. 12.
“Peabody is a team the kids put on their calendar,’’ said Bertrand a former Landry-Walker assistant under Brian Gibson. “Peabody is a measuring stick. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat a team like Peabody. So we’re not going to go hide from Peabody. We’ve got to go beat them.’’
McDonogh 35 is a team that seemingly found itself near the end of the regular season and extended that momentum into the postseason with three straight victories to earn a second straight tournament appearance dating to a 2015 trip to the Class 4A semifinals.
Three narrow playoff victories have extended the District 10-4A champions’ winning streak to six games. The signature win was a 80-78 upset of No. 2 Bossier at the McDonogh 35 gym in the regional round that the Roneagles followed with a 68-67 home court victory against No. 23 St. Martinville on Friday.
“This team went through a gauntlet this year,’’ Roneagles coach Kevin “Woo’’ Sanders said in reference to a schedule in which 10 losses were to five opponents (Crescent City, Warren Easton, Bonnabel, Sophie Wright and Karr) that advanced to the semifinals and/or quarterfinals. “They have competed all year.
I haven’t liked (how they play) all of the time this year and they know it. But they have competed and are battle- tested.’’
It took two free throws by senior guard Matthew LaFrance in a one-and-one situation with seven seconds remaining against St. Martinville to supply a 68-64 lead and ultimate margin. Against Bossier, the Roneagles were hot early, leading by as much as 27 before needing a three-point play (layup and free throw) by JaQuan Coleman with 2.2 seconds left to overcome a 78-77 deficit.
LaFrance and Coleman are among four returning starters who have spearheaded McDonogh 35 to its current position as the lowest-seeded semifinalist still alive. Call them a Cinderella or underdog, the Roneagles stand two wins away from winning the school’s first state title in a major sport with an intriguing nine-player rotation that stands 6-feet-4, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1, 6-6, 6-5, 6-1 and 6-8.
“I’ll say we’re all of the above, although I don’t know if the kids consider us as,’’ a Cinderella or underdog," Sanders said. “They just play ball. It’s been kind of a topsy-turvy year for us because we expected to be good. I’m just glad they’ve been able to make this run.
“We’re pretty long and rangy. We’ve got some versatility with this groupd. So it’s an interesting group.’’
Nine New Orleans area teams have advanced to the semifinals of the state tournament.
In addition to Lusher, Wright and McDonogh 35, reigning state champion and third-seeded Landry-Walker (27-6) faces No. 2 Ouachita Parish (28-6) in Class 5A at 6:15 p.m. Thursday.
Second-seeded St. Paul’s (29-6) faces No. 3 Catholic-Baton Rouge (20-8) in Division I at 1:15 p.m. Thursday.
Reigning state champion and third-seeded De La Salle (20-10) plays No. 2 University (18-11) at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Division II semifinals that follows Lusher and St. Thomas More.
Top-seeded Riverside (32-1) meets No. 4 Episcopal-Baton Rouge (32-3) at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday followed by reigning state champion and No. 3 seed Country Day (22-12) versus No. 2 Dunham (24-7) at 1:15 p.m.
Third-seeded Crescent City (23-13) plays No. 2 Grace Christian (26-9) in Division V at 11:30 a.m. Monday.
The LHSAA’s 12 state championship games are scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Boys Basketball State Tournament
(At Burton Coliseum, Lake Charles)
Class 5A semifinals
(2) Ouachita (28-6) vs. (3) Landry-Walker (27-6), 6:15 p.m. Thursday
(1) Natchitoches Central (31-3) vs. (4) Walker (31-4), 8 p.m.Thursday
Class 5A championship game, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 10
Class 4A semifinals
(3) Woodlawn-Shreveport (30-5) vs. (18) McDonogh 35 (20-14), 3 p.m. Tuesday
(1) Westgate (22-5) vs. Winner between (13) Warren Easton and (5) Carencro, 4:45 p.m. Tuesday
Class 4A championship game, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 10
Class 3A semifinals
(1)Madison Prep (24-6) vs. (4) Wossman (25-9), 6:15 p.m. Wednesday
(2) Peabody (33-2) vs. (3) Sophie B. Wright (30-5), 8 p.m. Wednesday
Class 3A championship game, 4 p.m. Saturday, March 10
Class 2A semifinals
(6) Avoyelles Charter (21-8) vs. (2) North Caddo (27-6), 3 p.m. Thursday
(1) Rayville (30-2) vs. (4) Red River (27-8), 4:45 p.m. Thursday
Class 2A championship game, noon Saturday, March 10
Class 1A semifinals
(1) Tensas (34-1) vs. (4) White Castle (22-8), 11:30 a.m.Tuesday
(2) Dehli (28-9) vs. (3) North Central (26-7), 1:15 p.m. Tuesday
Class 1A championship game, 2 p.m. Friday
Class B semifinals
(1) Simsboro (33-2) vs. (4) Hicks (31-8), 4:45 p.m. Wednesday
(2) Zwolle (31-9) vs. (11) Pitkin (20-16), 3 p.m. Wednesday
Class B championship game, 10 a.m. Saturday, March 10
Class C semifinals
(1) Summerfield (28-4) vs. (5) Pleasant Hill (21-13), 3 p.m. Monday
(2) Simpson (28-8) vs. (3) Singer (28-5), 4:45 p.m. Monday
Class C championship game, noon Friday
Division I semifinals
(1) Scotlandville (25-5) vs. (4) McKinley (22-10), 11:30 a.m. Thursday
(2) St. Paul’s (29-6) vs. (3) Catholic-Baton Rouge (20-8), 1:15 p.m. Thursday
Division I championship game, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 10
Division II semifinals
(1) St. Thomas More (22-9) vs. (4) Lusher Charter (22-10), 6:15 p.m. Tuesday
(2) University (18-11) vs. (3) De La Salle (20-10), 8 p.m. Tuesday
Division II championship game, 8 p.m. Friday
Division III semifinals
(1) Riverside Academy (32-1) vs. (4) Episcopal-Baton Rouge (32-3), 11:30 a.m. Wednesday
(2) Dunham (24-7) vs. (3) Country Day (22-12), 1:15 p.m. Wednesday
Division III championship game, 2 p.m. Saturday, March 10
Division IV semifinals
(1) Lafayette Christian (22-5) vs. (4) Southern Lab (19-10), 6:15 p.m. Monday
(2) St. Mary’s of Natchitoches (26-5) vs. (3) Hamilton Christian (22-9), 8 p.m. Monday
Division IV championship game, 4 p.m. Friday
Division V semifinals
(2) Grace Christian (26-9) vs. (3) Crescent City (23-13), 11:30 a.m. Monday
(1) Jehovah-Jireh (27-13) vs. (4) Episcopal School of Acadiana (21-18), 1:15 p.m. Monday
Division V championship game, 10 a.m. Friday