Paul Collins calls his starting lineup, “a recipe for disaster in pressure situations.”
Instead of succumbing to the pressure, however, Collins’ top-seeded Atlanta Bulldogs are headed for the Class C state championship.
Behind double-doubles from Kentrel Sapp and Steve Evans, Atlanta sewed up a date with defending Class C champion Pelican with a 71-47 semifinal victory against Sicily Island at Bossier City’s CenturyLink Center.
“We start an eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grader,” Collins said. “Usually that’s a recipe for disaster in pressure situations. The transition and our press takes the pressure off of them.”
Those elements put the pressure squarely on fourth-seeded Sicily Island (27-5) Saturday afternoon.
Atlanta’s swarming defense forced 26 Tigers turnovers and harassed Sicily Island into 22.1-percent shooting.
Offensive struggles were Sicily Island coach Curtis Shavers’ biggest worry for his inexperienced Tigers, which started only one senior.
“In the area where we play, there are no facilities that have that type of backdrop,” Shavers said of the CenturyLink Center’s arena-style setting. “Last year, we were able to play at Ouachita Parish, which is kind of similar, but a couple of guys on the team now weren’t on the team then. I think that had a lot to do with it.”
Sapp had plenty to do with it as well.
Slow starts to the first and second quarters put Sicily Island in an 18-point hole midway through the second quarter. The Tigers responded with their best run of the game, cutting the lead to eight on a three-point play by Desirae Drumgoole with 1:30 to play.
Sapp and Lashard Powell swung the momentum back to Atlanta for good. Powell answered Drumgoole’s three-point play with a 3-pointer on the next possession and Sapp added two more in the final 37 seconds of the half, giving the Bulldogs a 17-point halftime lead.
“I hit one, and I started feeling it,” said Sapp, one of four Sapp family members on the Bulldogs roster. “My coaches told me to keep shooting it.”
Sapp finished with game highs in points (22) and rebounds (18), while Evans, Atlanta’s rugged inside presence, added 15 points and 14 rebounds.
Powell (14 points) and Taren Sapp I (10) gave Atlanta a quartet of double-figure scorers, while Larry Plummer led Sicily Island with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
As the Bulldogs’ lone starting senior, Evans is the lone Bulldog who had been this far in the playoffs before Saturday.
“Basically, just to put it into words, I just want to win,” Evans said. “I just want my teammates to experience it and to go out on top as a champion.”