Pelican boys basketball coach Ricky Simmons was faced with a decision early in Friday’s Class C state semifinal game against New Living Word.
Simmons’ star, Zeek Woodley, was hit with his second foul at the 1:26 mark of the first quarter and the Jaguars down by three.
Woodley sat the final 86 seconds of the first quarter, then returned with his typical effortless, high-scoring game, pouring in 32 points, as the defending Class C champion Jaguars earned the right to defend their title with a 79-63 victory at the CenutryLink Center.
The Jaguars will face the winner of Saturday’s semifinal between Sicily Island and top-seeded Atlanta in the state finals next week in Monroe.
“They’re smart kids,” Simmons said of his senior leaders Woodley and Carnelius Holmes. “They can play without fouling.”
Woodley did that, avoiding another foul until the fourth quarter, when the game was out of hand.
Woodley, who scored 13 points in the second quarter as Pelican erased a three-point lead and took the lead for good, kept his thought process simple when he returned to the court.
“Don’t foul anymore,” said Woodley, a soft-spoken 6-foot-4 inside-outside threat.
Following conventional basketball wisdom likely would have kept Woodley on the bench for most or all of the second quarter.
Simmons’ decision to play Woodley did not come as a surprise to New Living Word coach Jerry Baldwin, formerly the head football coach at Louisiana-Lafayette.
“You can’t win the Kentucky Derby with Shetland ponies,” said Baldwin, whose 28-12 team lost in the semifinals for the second straight season. “You keep your thoroughbreds in there. You dance with the girl you brought to the prom.”
Woodley and Holmes (15 points) helped bring Pelican to the promised land of Class C basketball last season.
Their performances Friday, coupled with that of Chris Hagins (22 points, 11-of-15 free throws), pushed Pelican (22-8) to the brink of a repeat.
Hagins continued his role as Pelican’s good-luck charm, more than tripling his seven points-per-game scoring average.
“Chris transferred last year from Florien,” Simmons said. “Jan. 9 he became eligible, and we haven’t lost since then. At Florien, he played the same position as Zeek. They’ve got a lot of good guards. For me, he can play guard. That’s his natural position. He’s good at getting the ball to Zeek where he needs it.”