Top-ranked Christian Life Academy had to share the District 7-1A boys basketball title with Southern Lab last season as both teams finished 9-1 in league play.

After splitting two league games with the road teams winning, CLA defeated Southern Lab 69-41 in the Class 1A semifinals and went on to win the state final 66-60 over White Castle.

Southern Lab (8-14) plays at Christian Life (15-5) at 7:15 p.m. Friday in a key District 7-1A contest. Both teams are 2-0 in district. Both schools have proud traditions and again have high expectations for a deep playoff run. Christian Life has won six state basketball titles and Southern Lab holds the Louisiana high school record with 15 state titles.

Southern Lab got off to a slow start this season as three starters were involved in the football playoffs. The Kittens are starting to get hot and have scored 75 or more points in five of their past seven games.

Christian Life returns two starters in 6-foot-4 junior Johnathan Stove and 6-3 junior R.J. Hertzog from last season. Junior Malik Harrison and seniors Khalid Smith and Tremel Johnson are the other starters.

“Coming into the year, we didn’t really know how good we’d be,” Christian Life coach Mark Cascio said. “We’ve shown glimpses that we can be better than last year’s team. Southern Lab is a big challenge for us. Southern Lab is better than their record indicates.”

“This is a pivotal game,” Southern Lab coach Lonnie Machen said. “Christian Life is always a tough place to play, and they’ve got a great team. We’ve got a great rivalry going. The atmosphere will be electric. It’ll come down to which team can protect the ball and execute their game plan.”

Stove (21 ppg, 10 rpg), Hertzog (10 ppg, 7 rpg) and Smith (9 ppg, 4 assists) pace CLA.

“Malik Harrison has played really well recently,” Cascio said. “Johnathan Stove has always been good at attacking the basket. This year he’s added to his perimeter game.”

“Johnathan Stove makes plays and makes CLA go,” Machen said. “We have to find ways to limit his touches. You can’t stop a great player like him, but we hope to keep him contained.”

Southern Lab starters include 5-9 senior Trent Flowers (17 ppg), 6-3 senior Marquise Ricard (15 ppg), 6-2 senior Deonte Shorts (12 ppg), 6-5 junior Ray White (9 ppg, 8 rpg) and 5-10 senior Sam Forrest (8 ppg).

“Southern Lab can shoot it,” Cascio said. “They have athletic guys who can drive it. Their press is good. Defensively, we’ve got to contain dribble penetration, contest shots on the perimeter, rebound and recognize when to (fast) break.”

Machen said his team will mix defenses to try to slow CLA.

“We have to keep them off balance, rebound the ball, play good defense and protect the ball,” Machen said. “This game can be won by either team. It’ll be exciting.”