Marshall Jackson’s 33-year run as head coach came to an end Tuesday night.
So did his team’s Cinderella run.
But it didn’t end without one last valiant effort from Higgins, which put together a magical postseason run for their coach.
Higgins, the lowest seed (20) in the Top 28 Tournament, put a scare in top-seeded Natchitoches Central but crumbled late to fall 49-43 in the Class 5A semifinals at Burton Coliseum.
“We lost the final game, but I’m going out a winner,” said Jackson, who is stepping down after over three decades in Marrero.
Higgins led 43-37 with 2:40 left but got outscored 12-0 to close the game and end the season 22-12.
“The last two minutes of the game just came to will,” said Natchitoches Central coach Micah Coleman. “I can’t say enough about their will. It didn’t come down to any plays or sets. It just came down to our guys deciding they weren’t leaving tonight without a win.”
Natchitoches Central (29-2), the defending Class 5A champions, advances to Friday’s 8 p.m. title game to play Scotlandville.
It will be a rematch of last year’s title game that Natchitoches Central won 60-53.
“I think it makes for a great story,” Coleman said about the rematch.
Higgins almost rewrote the story, rallying in the third quarter in a game that was all Natchitoches Central early.
The Hurricanes scored just one field goal in the first quarter. It didn’t come until the 3:57 mark when Nathan Bailey knocked down a 3-pointer. The only other points in the quarter came on four free throws by Melvin Frazier.
But despite being down 14-7 at the end of the quarter, the Hurricanes hung around and trailed just 22-16 at halftime.
They never went away.
“Coach told us to come out aggressive in the second half, and we just kept playing hard,” said Frazier. “… It’s a good feeling. He hasn’t been here in a long time. He told us to give it our all and go out with a bang. We just fell short.”
Frazier, one of the state’s top seniors, finished with 13 points in his final high school game. The 6-foot-5 small forward said his final four choices for where he will play next are: LSU, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
His highlight reel reverse layup with 1:54 left in the third quarter trimmed Higgins’ deficit to 33-27. It also jump-started a 9-0 run to close the quarter.
Bailey followed with a jumper, then a 3-pointer. Romalo Ford’s putback with 15 seconds left in the quarter gave the Hurricanes a 34-33 lead, their first of the game.
The Hurricanes stretched the lead to 39-33 in the third quarter that started with 5-0 run.
“We just came out (in the second half) and played defense,” Jackson said. “We had nothing to lose. We let it loose and just gave it all we had.”
Frazier’s basket in the lane with 2:40 left put Higgins up 43-37. But it was the last basket of the game and of the season for the Hurricanes.
Bailey also scored 13 points and Daivon Sullivan had 10 points.
“They gave it all they had,” Jackson said. “We made some turnovers at the end and if we didn’t have them, we could be sitting in the winning locker room now.”
Brandon Rachal scored 15 points and Danny Cohen had 13 to lead the Chiefs.
“My hats off to Higgins,” Coleman said. “That’s the toughest group of kids we have faced this year.
“I can’t say enough about their play.”
While Coleman can start planning for one final game, Jackson reflected on his career after his final game.
“They gave me 33 glorious years,” Jackson said. “I don’t regret one moment.”