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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Looking ahead

A week from today will be the game of the year locally in high school baseball - Calvary at Captain Shreve.

Those two teams could realistically win state championships this year.

Shreve won the 4A title last year. Calvary was runner up in 1A.

The only way this gets better is if Shreve is throwing pitcher Austin Ross and Calvary is throwing pitcher Randy Zeigler.

If you get that matchup in that game, then you have something special.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Discovering stories

One of the reasons why I wanted to become a journalist/sports reporter is I love discovering stories to tell.

Growing up in Michigan, I was amazed at the way Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom could tell a story in his columns.

There's no greater feeling than stumbling upon a story ready to be told, and I found two out at the Bossier Parish Relays at Haughton.

It's amazing we at The Times hadn't heard about Haughton's Khorey Mitchell. The kid is coming back from brain surgery and won the discus event on Thursday. Initially he was diagnosed with polyps in his sinus cavity, but they spread to his brain. Doctors performed brain surgery leaving a scar running down his temple. They also had to install a metal plate into his head. Khorey said there was a chance he wasn't going to be able to play football.

Then there's Airline junior Katie McCoy. McCoy wasn't a track athlete; she began the spring season playing softball. But, she wanted to make a change so she joined the track team.

In her first ever track meet, she threw the javelin more than 106 feet. That was 18 feet farther than the second-place finisher. I think she's found her true calling.

In both cases, these are amazing stories waiting to be told, and I can't wait to do it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Lacrosse's big gains

For the last 30 years, we've heard how soccer is gaining in popularity within the United States. After covering soccer for the last couple of years for The Times, I've seen modest gains, but the sport still hasn't become the superpower in the States like around the world.

Now, lacrosse on the other hand, could be on the verge of something big, at least within the area. The crowds at the Byrd-Magnet game several weeks ago and Wednesday's Shreve-Magnet were larger than any soccer game I've been to.

Is lacrosse at the turning point in its development within the area? It appears so.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Rain, rain, rain

A rainy day -- like today -- makes for a quiet day in spring sports.

But there was some baseball played. And two games are of interesting note.

The first is Captain Shreve's 1-0 win over Parkway. It was another shutout for Austin Ross, a senior who has been truly dominant on the mound this year for the Gators. And it was another close game with Parkway. The Panthers must match up pretty well with the Gators for some reason.

The second game of note is Ruston's 10-1 win over Airline. Ruston has struggled with injuries this year and Airline has been down, but I wasn't expecting that kind of game between the two teams today.

Prep tennis stronger this year

When the state tennis tournaments roll around in late May, Shreveport-Bossier City ought to have two strong contenders in Class 5A in Byrd's Robert Verzaal and Airline's Matthew Zachary.
Verzaal and Zachary are are both freshmen. Verzaal currently stands No. 4 in the Louisiana boys 16-and-under standings, while Zachary is sixth.

Last year, only local one player -- Byrd senior Phillip Homza -- got as far as the quarterfinals of the Class 5A singles. Verzaal and Zachary are both threats to get farther, but Destrehan's Charlie Jones, last year's runner-up, will likely be the top seed.

The Class 5A tournament was at Southern Hills last year. This year it's in Baton Rouge.

Elsewhere, Loyola's Anthony McMaster could also be a contender in Class 2A singles.

In the girls divisions, Parkway's Claire Clark is back to defend her Class 4A singles title, and Loyola's Lauren Stevenson will be a threat in Class 2A.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Starting 'em young

One of the great things about small town high school athletics is that you really don't even have to be in high school to be on the high school varsity.

Case in point, Lakeside baseball.

Warriors coach Bob Gray said his team is young this year. It's so young that one of the starters is an eighth grader.

That's middle school no matter how you slice it.

Not to mention the three ninth graders that are starting.

Here's my take: If you're good enough to start on the varsity as an eighth-grader, more power to you. And the good thing is when you're a senior after starting four years, you ought to be really good.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

All-Star leftovers

The high school all-star basketball games were played on Saturday night in Houma.

Because the teams are split up not according to geographic reasons, the "East'' and "West'' monikers don't really mean anything. Still the "East'' swept the two games.

Locally, it's no surprise that Many's Tarkeisha Wysinger and Mansfield's Sharday Cotton were the big stars from the area. Wysinger had 19 points to lead the East to a 74-57 victory. Cotton had 10 points for the West.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

All-Star night

The high school all-star basketball games will be played in Houma tonight.

This is a good idea to play the all-star games closer to the season rather than in July. But you still have to wonder about the future of the event in light of how many all-star games are out there.

Forget the McDonald's games and other All-American games. There are also the state vs. state all-star games (Mississippi vs. Alabama, comes to mind).

Hopefully playing closer to the end of the season the event can thrive. And the event should rotate around the state to give different areas an opportunity to host and see the games.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mercy,mery me

It's that time of the year. The time when the 23-1, 22-0, 17-0 scores start rolling in here at The Times.

The sad thing is most of these games are being halted by the mercy rule.

Heck, Woodlawn stopped its own home game before batting in the bottom of the second after falling behind 23-1.

Personally, I don't know what these games accomplish for either team. The mercy rule isn't keeping it from getting out of hand. Yet starters aren't getting work for good teams either.

It's not like it doesn't happen in other sports. There are blowouts in everything.

It's just that in baseball, it's hard to stop except for pulling out the starters.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Evangel-Calvary thoughts

OK, back from the Evangel-Calvary game.

Here are some thoughts:

1) This is the second time I've seen Randy Zeigler pitch live. His last three innings looked like he did against Cedar Creek in the playoffs last year - dominant. But Evangel was able to have success making him get off the mound with bunts. It will be interesting to see if anyone else tries that.

2) I was impressed with Evangel's ability to compete. The Eagles are young. They've played a tough schedule. It might be a little too early to put them in the grave.

3) Calvary still won the game. And Calvary appears to be the class of Class 1A.

Monday, March 19, 2007

It's a Zwolle thing

I talked to Zwolle coach Bradley McLaren today and one of his players, Darnell Maze, for a story in Tuesday's edition on the Zwolle state championship basketball season.

McLaren made a good point that is often underestimated.

He said there were times when Zwolle had won the game before the Hawks ever walked in the gym.

I've long thought there is a vast difference between thinking you're going to win a game and KNOWING you're going to win a game.

Zwolle was 49-0 (or 49-1 if you count the Peabody loss). Obviously, the Hawks KNEW they were going to win.

The scary thing is the Hawks will have even more swagger next years.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Looking ahead

There is a rematch of last year's Class 1A state baseball championship set for Tuesday.

Evangel and Calvary will play a district game for the first time this season.

At the moment, Calvary appears to be the stronger team. But this should be a good indication of where these two teams - both ranked in the state's top 10 - are at this point in the season.

It should be fun to watch.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Congrats to Zwolle

One of the hardest things to do in sports is win all the games you're supposed to win.

The Zwolle Hawks did just that. They wrapped up the Class B state boys basketball title today with an 83-54 win over Quitman.

Zwolle's only loss all season came to Class 4A power Peabody. Even then, that game was considered an "exhibition.''

So you can say Zwolle won every game it was supposed to win.

And that is an accomplishment.

Athens was the higher-ranked team in the Class C final. Trojans coach Marcus Jackson liked his matchup with Reserve Christian.

The Trojans still lost.

That alone shows the difficulty in winning state championships.

Congratulations, Hawks.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An accurate reflection

This week's Louisiana Baseball Coaches Association top 10 polls came out today.

I've got to say, they are a pretty accurate reflection of the baseball around here.

Locally, only three teams are ranked in a top 10 - Calvary (No. 1 in 1A), Captain Shreve (No. 2 in 4A) and Evangel (No. 10 in 1A).

Calvary and Shreve certainly belong in those positions. Evangel, well, I guess the Eagles get points for playing a tough schedule. Otherwise, I think you'd almost have to kick them out of the poll at this stage of the season.

But what the poll accurately reflects most is how down some traditional teams are in this area.

Look in 5A. There is no Airline in the top 10. There is no Southwood inthe top 10. These are schools that have been strong in recent years.

Drop down to 4A. Where is Parkway? Where is Haughton? Again, these are schools that have been strong in recent years.

The point is this appears to be a transitional or rebuilding year for prep baseball locally.

Monday, March 12, 2007

No fan of new format

Count Zwolle boys basketball coach Bradley McLaren as one of those who don't like the new LHSAA Top 28 format where the semifinals and finals are played over two weekends.

It's not sour grapes. McLaren's team defeated Lacassine, 87-64, on Saturday in a Class B semifinal.

It's just that McLaren knows what happened when his team didn't play for more than a week since its quarterfinal game.

"It gives the kids time to get rusty again,'' McLaren said. "We laid off a week and I don't think we got off to a good start at all.''

Zwolle plays Quitman for the Class B title on Saturday.

That will be a week since the Hawks last played.

Look, Zwolle will be the favorite in that game whether it's played on Saturday or a Saturday in April.

But McLaren makes a legitimate point. Players are accustomed to playing on Tuesday and Friday during the regular season. While not everyone can keep the same routine, at least the old format was closer to that routine.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The week that was in Lafayette

Well, we're all done here in Caddo and Bossier parishes as far as boys basketball.

No teams from those two parishes will be playing for state titles next weekend.

About as good as it gets for around here will be Zwolle from Sabine Parish.

Plain Dealing's loss wasn't all that unexpected in the Class 1A semifinals. The Lions did good just to make it to Lafayette. If we had more teams make it, then we would probably have fared better.

Alas, it wasn't a great year for boys basketball in the metro area.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Worth the price of admission

I've seen a handful of high school baseball games over the last year, year and-a-half and I think I know the game I'd pay good money to see.

If you could somehow put together a Calvary-Captain Shreve game with Randy Zeigler pitching for Calvary and Austin Ross pitching for Shreve, then you'd have a winner.

I remember marveling at Zeigler's poise and presence on the mound last year in the playoffs when he shut down Cedar Creek. Calvary coach Rodney Traweek says Zeigler is even better this year, though I haven't had the chance to see him pitch.

I saw Ross throw for the first time on Friday. He threw a five-inning no-hitter against Ruston.

And I've got to say, he would have thrown a seven-inning no-hitter if they had played seven innings. He was that good. He pitched ahead in the count. He let his defense work behind him. It was impressive the way he worked.

So somebody put it together - a Calvary-Shreve game with Zeigler against Ross. That would be fun to watch.

Sportsmanship's sorry state

No matter how many times I see it, I'm constantly amazed when coaches run up the score on opponents. So much for teaching sportsmanship.

Take the Christian Life and Plain Dealing Class 1A semifinal game down in Lafayette on Friday. The Lions were in the game for a brief moment in the first quarter, but then the Crusaders and their guard Josh White took over.

Christian Life was ahead by 30 at halftime and 42 after three quarters. The Crusaders' five starters didn't come out of the game until midway through the fourth quarter. White, a Mr. Basketball hopeful, played 28 minutes.

Christian Life won, 95-42, and it's believed to be the largest margin of victory in the tournament's modern history. There was no need for Christian Life head coach Todd Foster to keep his five starters in the game that long.

Plain Dealing head coach David Bryant showed more class in defeat.

"I didn't have a problem with that," Bryant said. "My job is to prepare the team, and we were not as prepared as I thought we were."

Said Foster: "I've never done that in my career. I carry myself with dignity. We've never, ever run the score up on people. I've been on the other side too many times.

Foster, who used to coach at Evangel and faces plenty of allegations of running the score up on its own, is dead wrong. If he's been on the other side too many times, then he should recognize when its happening, and it happened Friday night.

Friday, March 09, 2007

FieldTurf at Lee Hedges Stadium?

There may be a push on to get FieldTurf at Lee Hedges Stadium.

That's not a bad idea. Other school districts around the state and private schools with their own stadiums, including Calvary Baptist, are going to it.

FieldTurf isn't cheap -- around $700,000-- but it pays for itself in the long run.

Lee Hedges Stadium hosts around 100 games a year including football, soccer and lacrosse. It costs around $80,000 annually to maintain it.

Still, as I said, FieldTurf is expensive, and it will take a major combined effort by local school boosters and Caddo Parish officials to do what it takes to acquire it.

Sounds like a good investment in the future of local athletes to me, though.

Running a track meet no easy task

Kudos to Byrd boys track coach Clint Walker.

Walker and his helpers did an outstanding job running off the Byrd Yellow Jacket Relays on Thursday at Lee Hedges Stadium.

The meet had about 20 boys and girls teams and running events in most events had more than one heat. Some had three.

It was the first meet Walker has been in charge of. He was all over the field, organizing competitors and making sure timekeepers were alert to the start of events.

Here's one suggestion, though. When I was there I didn't here any results announced. After a result sheet is taken to the press box and the scores are logged in, the first, second and third finishers and their times or distances should be announced immediately. These athletes deserve recognition in front of their peers and fans. There used to be a podium for this purpose at the stadium. If there still is, it wasn't being used when I was there.

Basketball coaching changes

At least two local basketball teams will have new coaches next season.

Matt Ponder has stepped down as boys basketball coach at Southwood. Ponder's team finished tied for fourth in District 1-5A last season and lost a game against Airline for a playoff spot.

On Thursday, Jennifer Edwards told me she would not be back as Northwood's girls basketball coach. Edwards, who also coaches track, said she may go back to school to get an advanced degree in adapted P.E.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Finally, the Top 28

It will be one of the latest starts to the Top 28 in recent years on Thursday.

The LHSAA had to break up its tournament over two weekends after Lafayette's Cajundome was taken for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. Well, either that or go somewhere else and the LHSAA isn't inclined to do that.

If it is successful - and you think it would be easier to get to a game on the weekend rather than a weeknight - then you may see the format again in coming years.

From a basketball standpoint, the plus is time for teams to heal and recover from any injuries. The minus is the layoff between this weekend and next weekend as opposed to playing just two or three days apart.

It will be interesting to see what happens.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Texas two step

Maybe it's me, but I can't recall a time when so many area teams have played baseball games against Texas teams.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I actually think this is a good thing. I think Texas has quality baseball and I think playing those teams will help later on in the season.

It's just odd that three or four games tonight will be played against Texas teams. This is after having a couple of Texas teams come over last week for the Bundrick Tournament.

Maybe it's a sign of the times. And if so, it's a good one. Just a little odd.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Upon further review

All right, it's been awhile since I've posted so let's look back at the weekend in prep hoops.


I was not surprised to see Airline knocked out in 5A. Heck, the Vikings had a great run to get to the quarterfinals. And a tip of the hat to Miles Holladay for a great coaching career that spanned five decades.

I was stunned by Fair Park's loss. Not so much that Fair Park lost, but the point spread was stunning to me.

I was at the Class 4A game in Bossier between Washington-Marion and Bossier. The Bearkats played hard, but there was too much athletic ability on the Washington-Marion side. If by chance the 4A final ends up being between Washington-Marion and Peabody that will be a war.

Plain Dealing is our lone Caddo-Bossier representative at the Top 28. While Zwolle gets most of the attention for its offense, Plain Dealing is putting up points in bunches.

I was shocked that Southwood lost. Not that Ellender may not have been the better team. But Southwood usually enjoys such a mental edge that I figured no way would they lose.

Arcadia and Mansfield - congrats on a great season.

Pleasant Hill - congrats on a great season and a great win for a Class C state title.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Big night in hoops

I'm curious to see how things shake out in basketball tonight?

Will Southwood win a 10th state championship? I'm thinking yes, but it may not be easy.

Will Airline give Miles Holladay a Top 28 trip in his final season? I keep waiting for this dream run to end and it keeps going. But I think it ends tonight.

Will Fair Park advance to the Top 28? I think so. Even though the Indians had a close call on Tuesday, I think they are good enough to get to Lafayette.

Will Bossier make it to Lafayette? I know the Bearkats are at home, but Leonard Washington of Washington-Marion may be too much inside.

Like I said, it ought to be an interesting night.