Uncertainty isn’t always a great thing to deal with. Playoff basketball is a notable exception, and the three Livingston Parish teams headed to the Class 5A postseason relish the notion of taking on the unknown.
For the second year in a row, all nine parish girls’ teams made the playoff field. The playoffs begin Thursday with first-round games and culminate with the State Tournament Feb. 26-March 3 in Alexandria.
In Class 5A, Walker earned the No. 10 seed, Denham Springs High is in as the 12 seed and Live Oak made the field as the No. 21 seed.
On Thursday, the Lady Cats (27-7) will host Hammond (17-13) at 6 p.m., the Lady Jackets (20-10) are home vs. Fontainebleau (23-10) at 6:30 p.m. and the Lady Eagles (16-13) head north to take on Southwood (22-10) at 6 p.m. in Shreveport.
Also from District 4-5A, champion Zachary (23-8) is the No. 5 seed and will entertain Lafayette High (13-10), and Scotlandville (19-13) is the No. 6 seed in the Division I (select) bracket. The Lady Hornets won’t play until the third round in the nine-team bracket.
Walker, DSHS and Live Oak all take on teams they have not faced this season, which creates that preferred uncertainty.
“It gives you a chance to prepare for somebody you aren’t familiar with, which can be exciting and it also makes them have to get ready for us,” Lady Cats’ coach Korey Arnold said.
“We’ve had a good season and our whole schedule has really prepared us for the playoffs. We’ve faced teams that press and don’t press, teams that play man and zone, team that push it and teams that don’t. That has all gotten us ready for this time of year, so we won’t be surprised by anything we face.”
Walker takes on a Hammond team that tied for second place in District 6-5A at 9-3, with the losses to No. 2 seed Ponchatoula and the Fontainebleau team headed to DSHS. In fact, three of the Lady Tors’ setbacks were to their Tangipahoa rivals from across I-12: Ponchatoula beat Hammond by 20, 25 and 28 points.
The Lady Tors also dropped games to Live Oak (54-33), Albany (65-41) and Zachary (64-58), while notching a 63-52 win against Scotlandville.
“Their record is deceptive because they played without (guard Brandy Scott) for a couple of weeks and lost five games while she was out,” Arnold said. “They are a little better than their seed. They have three very talented guards that can cause problems if we don’t stay in front of them. The good thing for us is that they don’t have a dominant post presence, so we don’t have to change what we like to do.”
Walker lost its last game of the regular season, 46-38 at Denham, when the Lady Jackets were able to take advantage of their advantages in the paint and slow the game down.
Like almost every other game this season, though, Arnold liked what his team gleaned from the loss.
“We’re not very big team play, so somebody like Denham can give us trouble if we aren’t making shots,” he said. “We played well against them but just didn’t make enough shots.”
And that one blemish -- which created a three-way tie for second place in 4-5A with DSHS and Scotlandville -- doesn’t detract from the Lady Cats’ bounceback campaign.
A year ago, Walker wobbled to a 17-18 finish and won only one district game with seven losses by six points or fewer. This season with much of the same group back, the Lady Cats played with much more confidence and were rarely in close games when they played well.
“It’s a credit to the players,” Arnold said. “We lost a lot of close games last year and we were able to flip those games this year and that’s been a big difference this season. The girls put in a lot of work in the offseason and it paid off.”
Live Oak enters the postseason in a similar spot to Walker a year ago: A young team with talent and promise for the future.
The Lady Eagles are just 2-6 since Jan. 11, but five of those losses have come to playoff teams, four to the district teams that finished above them in the standings. Live Oak also lost two previous non-district games vs. DSHS, as well as games vs. parish powerhouses Albany and Holden.
Makes sense that the Lady Eagles are eager to take on somebody who doesn’t know them well.
“I think we’re in a good place,” Live Oak coach Michele Yawn said. “We stand a chance with a team that hasn’t played us and the girls are excited about that.
“(Southwood) has girls who are (6-foot-1) and 6-4 and they’re athletic. But we have heard that their district isn’t as tough as ours. The good thing we’ve got going is that we’ve faced Denham and Scotlandville and Central – teams with size. Our district prepares us for anybody we’re going to face.”
The Cowgirls tied for second place in District 1-5A with a 9-3 mark. They have won nine of their last 10 games since a rough stretch during the holidays when they dropped four of six games, two that are attention getting: Narrow setbacks vs. Zachary (26-24) and Ouachita Parish (34-30), the No. 4 seed in Class 5A. Southwood also owns a 35-31 win over Lee, which walloped Live Oak 65-42 on Nov. 17.
As much as the Lady Eagles are the underdog in the first-round matchup, Yawn likes the fact that her team is anchored by players making either a second or third consecutive playoff appearance.
“What we hope is that this will be a little different than last year because all of these girls have been there before,” she said.
“Last year we relied really heavily on (former Lady Eagles’ star Presley Wascom) and the other girls weren’t ready for the atmosphere. They are now, so we’re excited to see what we can do.”
DSHS is a little more familiar with its opponent, although the Lady Jackets haven’t seen Fontainebleau during the high school season the last several seasons.
The Lady Bulldogs were a foe in a team camp last summer and Denham has faced Fontainebleau coach Mark Beason when he was at Northshore, a program he guided to the state semifinals in 2012.
“We know they have a great post player who used to be at Scotlandville (Gabby Dodson) who is very athletic and that’s got to be a focus for us,” DSHS coach Shelly LaPrarie said. “They always have great shooters and from coaching against Coach Beason, I know they will be well-prepared against us.”
Paced by Dodson’s 12 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots a game, the Lady Bulldogs tied Hammond for second place in District 6-5A and played Ponchatoula closer in two losses – 52-36 and 52-35.
The Lady Jackets head to the postseason on a high note after the win over Walker, their ninth in the last 12 games. DSHS presents matchup problems for most teams with a frontcourt featuring three 6-footers – Maia Robinson, Desiree Jones and Kate Thompson.
That trio helped DSHS get off to a 9-1 start this season, but a 4-7 swoon in December created some growing pains. A win over Dutchtown helped Denham regain its footing, and since then LaPrarie’s team has re-established some confidence.
The win over Walker sends the Lady Jackets into the playoffs on a high note, which could balance their dearth of postseason experience.
Robinson is the only player who has logged extensive minutes when DSHS has gone 7-2 the last two years in the playoffs. Jones and Thompson did play, but this was the first season as starters for both.
“We put four quarters of basketball together, and that's what I've been asking them to do all year,” LaPrarie said after the Walker victory.
“We made it to third round last year and the girls who played saw what it was all about. I’m sure there will be some jitters, but this is a new season for everybody and we have to focus on that and come out and focus on playing our best.”
Randy Rosetta is Sports Editor of The Livingston Parish News.
You can reach him at (225) 999.0667 or RandyR@LivingstonParishNews.com.
Follow on Twitter: @RandyRosetta | @LPN_Sports | @LPNews1898
Check out these Livingston Parish headlines from February 12, 2018!