For most area boys high school basketball teams still left in the playoffs, the road to the Top 28 in Lake Charles will start a week early.
Seven of the 10 area squads will travel in the quarterfinals, leaving this corner of the state light on Friday home games after fans didn’t have to travel far to find playoff basketball in the first two rounds.
All four area “big school” teams will hit the road, including Class 3A No. 2 Bossier (at No. 10 St. Louis), Class 4A No. 7 Huntington (at No. 2 East Jefferson), 3A No. 17 North Webster (at No. 8 Donaldsonville) and 5A No. 2 Natchitoches Central (at No. 10 East Ascension).
Bossier (25-7) escaped No. 15 Parkview Baptist in overtime to advance, and the Bearkats are riding a 15-game winning streak into the quarterfinals matchup.
The Bearkats are aiming for their sixth straight state tournament appearance against a St. Louis (21-9) that edged a talented No. 7 Patterson squad on the road.
Perhaps the most difficult road task lies with Huntington (28-2), who visits an East Jefferson squad (28-3) loaded with talent from its 4A football championship team.
But this season’s Raiders are the deepest of coach Mack Jones’ Huntington squads, and they have demolished their two playoff opponents 83-36 (No. 26 Franklin Parish) and 71-55 (No. 10 Wossman) at home. East Jefferson also has two big playoff wins – 81-38 over No. 31 Lakeshore and 65-44 over No. 18 Plaquemine.
Huntington, winners of 12 straight and without a loss to a Class 4A team this season, hasn’t been to the state tournament since two consecutive trips in 2008-09.
North Webster arguably has the best win of the playoffs when they eliminated No. 1 John Curtis on Wednesday, the only No. 1 seed to lose thus far.
Now the Knights (25-9) take their show on the road to No. 8 Donaldsonville (22-9), which is similar to North Webster in length, athleticism and an ability to play at a fast pace.
North Webster has won 13 straight to teams not named Bossier, which beat the Knights twice.
Natchitoches Central (28-5) also takes its show on the road to East Ascension (24-9). The lengthy Chiefs are on a 15-game winning streak with its last loss coming to Bossier.
If North Webster has the best win of the tournament, then North Caddo has the best run.
The Class 2A No. 28 Rebels (11-18) are the lowest seed remaining in any class in the tournament with the next lowest being Class 5A No. 19 Thibodaux.
After a 12-point upset win at No. 5 Opelousas Catholic, the Rebels took out No. 12 Doyle 55-48.
North Caddo overcame a 3-14 start against a difficult schedule without several of its key players, but the Rebels are 8-4 in their last 12.
“We competed but we couldn’t close out games,” said first-year coach Ron Meikle, who’s previous stops including college head coaching and NBA scout positions. “We added football players Deion Johnson and Tyree McCauley to fill some of the holes caused by ineligibility, and the chemistry started to click.
“It’s hard to win games when everybody isn’t on the same page, and we struggled with that at the beginning of the year.”
The Rebels are powered by shot-blocking post Robert Williams and senior guard Jontaveon Brooks, who buried a 3-pointer that iced the Doyle game.
“If we can get Robert to play big inside instead of going outside like he’s Kevin Durant, Jr., then we’ve got a shot,” said Meikle, who added that Doyle beat the Rebels’ quarterfinals opponent in No. 13 St. Thomas Aquinas. “But I love that kid … and it’s really fun coaching all of these guys.
“We played teams like Captain Shreve, Fair Park, Minden and Ruston, and then we get into a district that I think is the best in the state (2A-wise). We’ve just had gradual improvement, and a lot our games have been nail-biters, so they are seasoned in tough games.”
High seeds living up to billing
Not everyone has to go on the road, and three high seeds in particular will host quarterfinals games.
Arcadia (26-3), the No. 1 seed in Class 1A, welcomes No. 8 Hamilton Christian (24-7). Class 2A No. 2 Lakeview (26-4) hosts No. 10 Many (20-7) while Class B No. 1 Florien (40-3) gets No. 9 Choudrant (20-14).
Arcadia, who returns the core of a runner-up team, reached the quarters with defense, allowing just 37 and 18 points, respectively, in its first two playoff games.
“The biggest thing is that Plain Dealing loss refocused us because we had gotten a little complacent,” Jackson said. “We had intense practices to get back to that fundamental defense we had gotten away from.
“We play a mix of pressure man defense and some zone … but we got back to communicating and playing with high intensity.”
Lakeview will host Many in the lone matchup involving two area teams, and the Gators bring a 13-game winning streak in the 2A quarterfinals. Lakeview’s length bothers opponents of any size, and the Gators have wins of 59 points over No. 31 Runnels and 32 points at No. 18 Rosepine.
Many has earned its keep with a 13-point win against No. 23 Isidore Newman and a 25-point spanking at No. 7 Welsh. Besides two losses to District 3-2A champion Rapides, the Tigers have won 12 straight.
As for Florien, the Blackcats have five players in double figures and pressure opponents the entire game.
Coach Klifford Walker said the matchup against Choudrant will be a battle of tempos.
“We play eight or nine kids every night, and we can wear people down a little bit,” Walker said. “Choudrant plays in low-scoring games and like to control the tempo, but we’ll want it a little faster.”
Florien has a 17-game winning streak heading into the quarters and hope to advance to the state tournament for first time in nearly a decade.
Rival Zwolle (27-10) is still in the mix, and the No. 7 Hawks must head to No. 2 Midland (25-3).
“This team doesn’t have the talent of our teams in the last 10 years, but we get up and down the floor and play hard,” said coach Bradley McClaren. “Both us and Midland play fast, and the game we’ll be decided by who plays the best defense and knocks down shots.”
In Class C, No. 9 Summerfield (22-14) and No. 5 Pleasant Hill (19-16) waive the area banner.
Summerfield hosts No. 1 Elizabeth (30-4) and Pleasnt Hill heads to No. 4 Sicily Island (23-13).
Summerfield coach A.Z. Johnson will coach his boys Saturday after aiming for a state title Friday as head coach of the ladies.
“It’s hectic, but it’s rewarding at the same time,” Johnson said. “Both the boys and girls play defense for 94 feet and try to create turnovers off pressure.”