Scotlandville High has carved an indelible legacy on the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Boys Top 28 tournament. East Ascension wants to build one.
The two basketball teams from different Baton Rouge districts have little in common. They didn’t even play each other this season. Yet they both sit two wins away from a Class 5A state championship as the five-day tourney begins at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles.
Rarefied air meets a rare opportunity when the teams play separate semifinals Tuesday night.
“Sure, our guys were excited after we won the quarterfinal game,” East Ascension coach Barry Whittington said. “We’ve reminded them that this is no vacation. This isn’t an excuse to get a day off from school.
“We’re playing one of the best teams in the state. It won’t be easy, but this is the chance we started working for last spring.”
East Ascension (30-6) plays top-seeded Natchitoches Central (31-3) in the first of two 5A semifinals at 6 p.m. The Spartans are a No. 13 seed and the lowest remaining seed in the playoffs.
At 8 p.m., second-seeded Scotlandville (33-2) meets No. 11 Ouachita Parish (23-11) in the other semifinal. The Hornets make an unprecedented seventh straight Class 5A appearance in the tourney and have won three of the last four 5A titles. Scotlandville beat Ouachita 80-71 in overtime to win its title in 2013.
Last year, Scotlandville beat Natchitoches Central to avenge a title-game loss to the Chiefs in 2014. Coach Carlos Sample says the devil is in the details, noting that his team won’t overlook Ouachita.
“We’ve stayed the course and right now we have different guys stepping up to make plays in each game,” Sample said. “The last game (a quarterfinal win at St. Augustine) provided an example of that. It also provided an invaluable tool for us to use in film study. They can see what needs to be done in game situations, controlling the tempo and just grinding for 32 minutes.”
Both coaches relish the fact that their teams are there together. Scotlandville led District 4-5A wire-to-wire without being challenged. Whittington wasn’t pleased when EAHS finished as the 5-5A runner-up to McKinley, but now concedes that the Spartans got what they wanted — the school’s first tourney berth since 2013 when legendary coach Kenny Almond led EAHS to the semifinals.
East Ascension has some size with two 6-foot-6 post players, Cameron Wire and Justin Harris. Guard Le’Aarin Cain averages 20.3, while Koye Ruffin averages 13.1. Natchitoches Central counters with four starters averaging in double figures led by point guard Brian White at 17.0 and 6-6 guard Brandon Rachal at 15.0. Post player Cameron Lard, a 6-foot-9 inside presence, is gone. Lard transferred to Landry-Walker in New Orleans and never gained eligibility.
“They don’t have a 6-9 guy, but there’s a reason they’re seeded No. 1,” Whittington said. “They’ve got a solid team and get points in a lot of places. We have to concentrate on being us and doing what we do.”
Whittington, who led Donaldsonville High to the 3A semifinals in 2014, said the advice to concentrate on his team and game plan came from Scotlandville’s Sample earlier this year.
Sample stresses the grind part of his team’s approach that is steeped in defense and teamwork. Sophomore guard Ja’Vonte Smart (6-4) leads the Hornets with averages of 22.4 points, 7.2 assists and 6.9 rebounds. Smart is projected as one the nation’s top five prospects for 2018.
Seniors Jordan Adebutu (17.4 points, 6.7 rebounds) and Garrick Green (15.9 points, 11.4 rebounds) are other leaders for the Hornets. Green is the tallest SHS player at 6-6.
Ouachita is led by 6-7 Jekamiah Head (14 points, 8 rebounds) and guard Jayvonta Gill (11 points, 7 rebounds).
“Ouachita has some size and several guys who are two and three-year starters. We’ll need to control their guards, the tempo and execute.”