What the Chiefs have been dreaming about all season is only 32 minutes away.
Now all Natchitoches Central needs to do tonight is beat No. 1 seed and defending champion Scotlandville in the Class 5A state title game. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 at McNeese State’s Burton Coliseum following the conclusion of the Class C and Class B championship contests.
The second-seeded Chiefs (30-3) have proven they belong here with one of the best seasons in program history. They finished the regular season 26-3, losing only to powerhouses Landry-Walker, Tioga and Bossier. Along the way, they knocked off top-tier 5A programs Comeaux and Byrd before running the table in District 2-5A to enter the playoffs on a 13-game winning streak.
The Chiefs faced tough challenges at home against New Iberia in the second round and on the road in a quarterfinal win over East Ascension before cruising past Thibodaux in the semifinals on Tuesday.
It gets a lot tougher tonight, though. Scotlandville is 35-1, having won 20 in a row following a one-point loss to St. Augustine (the team the Hornets beat in the semifinals Tuesday) in late December. Not only are the Hornets the top seed, they have history on their side, too. Scotlandville has won the past two 5A titles and is playing in its fifth straight 5A title game.
“Obviously, they’re a great program, not just a good team,” Natchitoches Central coach Micah Coleman said.
The Chiefs don’t quite have Scotlandville’s recent history. This is their second trip to the Top 28 in the past three years under Coleman, who has guided the program for eight years. They also advanced to the Top 28 in 2006, the year before Coleman arrived.
But you have to trek back to pre-consolidation to see the last time the school played for a boys basketball championship. Natchitoches High lost the 2A championship in the first Top 28 in 1961 and again the following year. The school also finished as 2A runner-up in 1967 and 3A runner-up in 1973.
Coleman and the Chiefs are well aware of the community’s tradition, which includes two state titles in the 1950s, before the Top 28 existed. He’s tried to preach to his players how special this season could be, and he said they started believing about midway through the season.
Junior guard Danny Cohen continued his sensational postseason play in Tuesday’s 17-point win over Thibodaux, scoring a game-high 24 points on 7-of-18 shooting. He led the Chiefs in scoring for the third straight game and upped his playoff average to 20 points per game.
“Danny is super explosive,” Coleman said. “He’s really come into his own the last four weeks. I think he’s realizing his offensive potential. … We need the ball in his hands. We need him to attack.”
“I just attacked any way that I could,” Cohen said.
Sophomore forward Austin Guy continued to be a double-double machine, quietly amassing 15 points and 10 rebounds on Tuesday, while sophomore center Cameron Lard dominated defensively. He scored just 10 points, but he had 14 rebounds and officially blocked seven shots, though he altered numerous more.
“I don’t know how many blocks he had or how many shots he altered, but he’s a good player,” Thibodaux coach Tony Clark said of Lard, the 6-foot-9 anchor for the Chiefs’ defense.
Natchitoches Central had a distinct size advantage on Tuesday and will again tonight. This year’s Scotlandville squad looks completely different than the ones that won state titles the past two years.
The Hornets graduated a front line that featured 6-9 Damien Jones (now at Vanderbilt), 6-6 Brian Bridgewater (LSU) and 6-8 Jared Sam.