St. Michael pulls away from South Lafourche _lowres

Advocate staff photo by APRIL BUFFINGTON -- St. Michael's Sabre Wilson looks for a teammate to pass the ball to against South Lafourche during a Class 4A second-round playoff game at St. Michael on Feb. 22.

Second-seeded St. Michael the Archangel is the highest seeded team remaining in Class 4A, but critics typically focus on the things they’re not.

The Warriors only have two players 5-foot-9 or taller. They don’t have gaudy statistics, and they haven’t played in a title game since winning back-to-back 4A titles in 2008-09.

Two things work in their favor. Being undervalued makes the Warriors play with a chip on their shoulders. They may be the most battle-tested team in 4A going into the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Top 28 tournament on Thursday.

“You respect everyone,” senior guard Tyler Morrison said. “We understand that we’re not the biggest team. But I feel confident in how we’re playing. We trust each other, and we understand what we need to do.”

St. Michael (27-8) plays No. 6 Rayne (30-2) in the second of two 4A semifinals that help tip off the action at Southeastern Louisiana’s University Center in Hammond. Game time is 2:45 p.m. Eighth-seeded Ursuline (25-5) plays No. 4 Karr (23-7) in the Thursday’s first game at 1 p.m. Three other semifinals in Classes 2A-1A also are on the schedule.

“Rayne is a very good team,” St. Michael coach Tami McClure said. “The thing they do is pressure people. They’ll use three different kinds of presses, and it helps them get easy baskets.

“How we handle that pressure is obviously a big part of that. They’d rather not play a halfcourt game, and our goal is to make it one, as much as possible.”

McClure’s teams always play a tough schedule, and this season was no exception. The Warriors lost five straight games to high-powered teams during the Christmas holidays.

But the experience proved invaluable. One of those losses was to defending state champion Warren Easton. Last week, St. Michael turned the tables, beating Easton 53-48 in the quarterfinals. The 5-7 Morrison leads SMHS with an 11.2 scoring average. Sabree Wilson is next at 11.0, followed by Jordan Schexnayder at 9.7.

Charlesa Dugas (5-9) leads Rayne with averages of 22.2 points and 5.3 rebounds. Whitley Larry, a 6-0 post player, adds 10.8 points and 8.9 rebounds.

The loss of versatile senior Maddie Newchurch to a torn ACL three weeks ago hasn’t deterred the progress. Newchurch now serves as a student coach. Like the other six seniors, Newchurch wants to advance. Memories of a semifinal loss to Salmen three years ago also is a motivator.

Another factor the Warriors have going for them is the return of ex-SMHS and LSU standout Jeanne Kenney as an assistant coach. Kenney starred on St. Michael’s title teams.

“It’s crazy how confident I am in this team,” Newchurch said. “We’ve been through a lot, but we’re close as a team. We’re friends on and off the court. I believe we can do anything if we put our minds to it.”