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Friday, February 29, 2008

On to Lafayette

There will be solid representation of northwest Louisiana next week at the Top 28 tournament in Lafayette.

Huntington, the No. 1 seed in Class 5A, advanced with a win over St. Augustine.

Northwest Louisian will have half the field in Class 2A. Both Lakeside and Many reached Lafayette and could meet in the finals with a win next week.

Arcadia will play in the Class 1A semifinals against Country Day.

In Class B, Zwolle will play Runnels and in Class C, Athens and Pleasant Hill both reached the Top 28.

Tonight's biggest upset, though, may have been Lakeside defeating Springhill. Springhill had won the three previous meetings and was the No. 2 seed in Class 2A.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

End of the line

The Parkway Lady Panthers' season came to an end tonight in Hammond with a loss to Ellender.

Losing to Ellender is no shame. This is a team that returned all five starters from last season's Class 5A state championship team that defeated Southwood.

The good news for Parkway is the Lady Panthers have gained some experience. They'll never have to make that first trip to the Ladies' Top 28 again. And if they get back next year, they should have a better showing.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Parkway's turn

The Parkway girls will step on to the stage on Thursday, making their first appearance at the Ladies' Top 28 in Hammond.

Unfortunately, they will be playing one of the best teams in the state -- in any class -- in Ellender.

A win on Thursday and Parkway immediately becomes a favorite to win a state title.

A loss on Thursday and the Lady Panthers will be left with the memories of a great season.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Good recovery

Give the Huntington Raiders credit, they didn't lay an egg two games in a row.

They went to Hammond and took care of business and now they'll be home on Friday night against St. Aug.

That's what No. 1 seeds and No. 1-ranked teams do. They take care of business. They don't fool around with No. 32 seeds.

Apparently, Huntington got the message. The Raiders are 32 minutes away from the Top 28.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ho hum

I got in my truck after eating dinner, turned on the radio and heard Southwood was tied at the half with West Monroe in the girls 5A title game.

I was a little surprised Southwood was tied. But the 19-19 score suggested some defense was being played.

By the time I got to Target, Southwood was pulling away. By the time I reached the office, it was a 16-point Southwood lead.

The point is simple: Southwood is a defensive-minded team with a potent offense.

The only way Southwood surprises me at this point is to NOT win the state title on Friday night.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Upon further review

One day later and Caddo Magnet's soccer state championship is no less impressive.

Consider this little fact, some of the players on Magnet's state championship team weren't even in school when a Shreveport team last won a state championship.

And with the exception of Jesuit, Magnet defeated all of the top teams in the state this year.

Twice, Jesuit lost before getting to play Magnet. Once, in the St. Paul's tournament and then again in the playoffs.

So kudos to Radi Baltov and his state champion Mustangs.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Division I boys soccer championship

Woodlawn-Baton Rouge vs. Caddo Magnet

Caddo Magnet 2, Woodlawn 1
The Mustangs are Division I state champs.

74th minute
Marcus Dyer has just made things interesting. Dyer scores off a throw-in to make it a 2-1 game.

72nd minute
Less than eight minutes left and the Mustangs can taste the state title. Woodlawn has attacked Caddo Magnet and stepped up its offense in the second half. The Mustangs are in lockdown mode keeping everything away from keeper Chris Hilario.

64th minute
Caddo Magnet can start celebrating...A miscue on defense for Woodlawn freed Alex Blandin to score, making it 2-0 for the Mustangs. A loose ball in the crease left Blandin 1-on-1 with the Woodlawn keeper.

60th minute
20 minutes remaining in the game and the Panthers have considerable life still left in them. A free kick was just glanced over the Magnet crossbar. Magnet better tighten up defensively.

52nd minute

Woodlawn has its best offensive opportunity of the night, sending a ball just wide of the Mustangs' net off a free kick.

47th minute
Caddo Magnet is flirting with getting its second goal, and Woodlawn has shown some life as well. Magnet keeper Chris Hilario hasn't been challenged nearly as much as Woodlawn's Sterling Perryman.

Magnet 1, Woodlawn 0

28th minute

It's been all Mustangs through the first half. Woodlawn coach Andrew Barnes needs to make an adjustment and start taking some chances for the Panthers to have a shot.

15th minute
Adam West! What an amazing goal! West just scored the most beautiful goal of the tournament, getting a long feed from Steven Bush, West headed it past the Woodlawn keeper who had no shot at it.
Magnet 1, Woodlawn 0.

14th minute
Woodlawn is counterattacking for the first time. The Panthers' offense gets a corner out of it, but Magnet sends them back.

10th minute
The Mustangs are continuing to threaten. Victor Leuck just missed a wide-open net from an awkward angle. Caddo Magnet is hungry for a goal.

4th minute

The Mustangs look good in the opening minutes. Woodlawn is dropping back what looks like an army on the defense. The Mustangs are dominating through the midfield and playing good possession ball.

I'm stunned by the crowd that is waiting to get in. The line stretches from the ticket office back to the parking lot, nearly 100 feet.

The game will kick off in about 15 minutes, and already we've got the largest crowd of the four games ready to see woodlawn and Caddo Magnet. There's a nice line of traffic leading up to Independence Stadium and a lengthy line of fans waiting to buy tickets.

Division I girls soccer championship

Barbe vs. St. Thomas More

STM 3, Barbe 0.
There's a little shoving and pushing between teams as they line up to shake hands. STM accused a Barbe player of kicking a player and then slapping one during the postgame hand shake. Wow.

73rd minute
Danielle Murphy gets her second goal putting this game out of reach from Barbe.

68th minute
Barbe's Jana Barrow is in behind the STM defense and sends a shot sailing over the crossbar. It's the best chance for the Lady Bucs all game.

64th minute
It's not looking good for Barbe who has had problems getting over midfield.

53rd minute
Barbe is having problems cracking the STM defense. They need some solutions to its offensive struggles quickly, or this game is over.

38th minute
Kate Corley makes it 2-0 for STM, getting a great through ball from Danielle Murphy. Corley slips past her mark and flips it into the net.

29th minute
Danielle Murphy gets STM on the scoreboard with a terrific goal. She beat two Barbe defenders from the right wing and buried a shot into the left corner of the net from about 8 yards out. STM 1, Barbe 0.

20th minute
Another great scoring chance for STM. Danielle Murphy is wide open in front of the Barbe net, but her shot goes right to Cahumont.

18th minute
STM has had several quality chances at getting the game's first goal. Barbe needs to step up its offense in a hurry.

4th minute

St. Thomas More nearly gets the first goal of the game as Barbe keeper Makenzie Cahumont has to dive on a loose ball in the crease.

Introductions are underway, and we should have soccer in a few minutes. Barbe is wearing jerseys with light blue and white vertical stripes with white shorts while St. Thomas More is in matching dark blue jerseys and shorts.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Division III boys soccer championship

Newman vs. St. Thomas Aquinas

38th minute

This has been a terrific soccer match with both teams having quality scoring opportunities in the last couple of minutes. Michael Harris of Newman just missed wide left in a 1-on-1 chance while St. Thomas Aquinas Alex Cervantes released a quick shot that barely hit a Newman defender.

5th minute
Friday's second game is underway and neither team has gained much of an upper hand on the other. It appears the teams are measuring their opponent up to analyze a weakness.

Division III girls soccer championship

Sacred Heart vs. St. Louis

St. Louis 2, Sacred Heart 1
St. Louis' Grace Stulb is credited with the game-winning goal late in the second overtime to give the Saints their first state title.

98th minute
St. Louis misses an amazing opportunity. Grace Staulb's corner kick is nearly redirected into the net by Maddie Landry. Landry's shot hits the crossbar then deflects out-of-play. A second OT is coming up.

End of regulation
Sacred Heart 1, St. Louis 1

79th minute
Looks like we're heading to overtime tied at 1...

64th minute
Sacred Heart defender Sarah Parkerson has tied the score. Her chip shot from about 30 yards out fooled the St. Louis keeper, who misplayed it. St. Louis has had few counterattacks this half.

50th minute
Sacred Heart has begun the second half like it did the first, pressing St. Louis. Sacred Heart's starting keeper has been sidelined since colliding with a St. Louis player on the Saints' goal. The Cardinals' defenders have really moved forward to shorten the field and help out their offense.


St. Louis 1, Sacred Heart 0

38th minute
St. Louis has poured it on in the closing minutes of the first half, looking to go up 2-0. Sacred Heart has had problems getting the ball past midfield, opting for long balls over their midfielders.

23nd minute

Rasheema Clark gives St. Louis the 1-0 lead off a free kick. The kick came from just outside the penalty area and drifted wide of the goal. The Sacred Heart keeper slid over to play the ball but collided with Clark.

The keeper hit the turf, but Clark stayed on balance and chipped the ball into the net.

18th minute
A terrific opportunity for Sacred Heart hits the left goal post. Set up off a corner kick, the Cardinals fired a shot that glanced off the outer edge of the goal post. St. Louis is trying to counter.

14th minute
We are underway here at Independence Stadium with the first of four state soccer finals to be played this weekend. Fifteen minutes into the D-III girls final, and Sacred Heart has come out strong.

The Cardinals applied some early pressure on the St. Louis net, clanking one off the crossbar. St. Louis has had little offense thus far.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The more things change

Well, well, well, Southwood's headed back to the Ladies' Top 28.

The faces change, but Steve McDowell's teams do not.

Thursday night was vintage Southwood -- defensive pressure, balanced scoring and a dominating playoff victory.

Yes, the names have changed. Yes, times have changed.

But Southwood remains a constant success in Louisiana girls high school basketball.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Has Huntington been tested?

As the boys basketball brackets came out today,it became fairly obvious that District 1-5A wasn't much of a threat for the Huntington Raiders.

Yes, Huntington is the No. 1 seed. But the only other 1-5A teams in the playoffs are No. 20 seed Southwood and No. 31 seed Byrd.

That's hardly being pressed in the district race.

Hopefully for Huntington's sake, the Raiders won't need that toughening up that comes from playing in a brutal district. But there's always the possibility of playing in that close after having not been challenged for two months and having things go wrong. And then a weak district could hurt a team with title aspirations.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

System needs tweaking

The boys basketball playoff qualifers were announced tonight and Booker T. Washington is nowhere to be found.

That just shows you the playoffs aren't about the best 32 teams.

Because a 20-win BTW win IS one of the best 32 teams in the state. But because the Lions play in a really strong district, they finished 5-5 in the district and in fourth place.

So some third-place teams are in the playoffs even though they are not nearly as good as BTW and the Lions are staying at home.

Here's a concept the LHSAA should consider. Automatic bids to the district champion, wild cards to everyone else. Then fill out field with the best remaining teams. Whether it's through a selection committee or power points, anything to get as close to the best 32 teams as possible in the playoffs.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Baseball off and running

When baseball schedules starting rolling in to us at The Times, opening day looked to have some pretty stout matchups.

In reality, it did.

Captain Shreve's 8-2 victory over Benton was closer than it the final score indicated. Alex Garcia and Jamie Gilley traded hard fastballs and crisp breaking pitches before Shreve broke through against Benton's bullpen.

Calvary's Randy Zeigler, meanwhile, just does what he does. Zeigler beat Lufkin, Texas, with his arm and hit two home runs in the Cavaliers' 4-2 win.

The revelation from what I saw in the Shreve-Benton matchup was Casey Elkins.

I've seen a lot of baseball -- from high school to the big leagues -- and Elkins, for a high schooler, has one of the best cut fastballs you will see.

Shreve coach Todd Sharp called him a "mini Mariano Rivera" after Elkins threw two perfect innings Monday. I don't know if I'd go that far, but I do believe you'd be hard pressed to find as good a cutter as Elkins flashed Monday.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Early seeding returns

The first round of the girls basketball playoff games showed, for the most part, the coaches knew what they were doing with the seedings.

Plain Dealing, a No. 5 seed, was the highest-seeded knockout.

Airline had one of the upsets, but an 18 over a 15 isn't a huge upset.

"If you look at all of the brackets, I think 18 beat 15 like four times," Airline coach David Duhon said. "The upsets were few and far between.''

And that means the coaches did a pretty good job with the seeding.

"I was real pleased,'' Duhon said. "I would have liked to have been a little lower so I wouldn't have had to play No. 2 in the second round. But I think it was a positive. I think it's a lot better than the power ratings.''

Saturday, February 16, 2008

On to the finals

The Caddo Magnet Mustangs are headed to soccer's Division I boys state championship after their 1-0 win over St. Paul's today in Covington.

Everybody and their brother figured Caddo Magnet would play Jesuit in the finals at Independence Stadium.

Caddo Magnet held up its end of the bargain by winning. Jesuit couldn't do the same. Jesuit lost to Baton Rouge Woodlawn 1-0.

That's the same Baton Rouge Woodlawn that is 13-10-4. Magnet is 27-1.

But talking to Magnet coach Radi Baltov tonight, you get the feeling he won't let his team get overconfident.

"They made it all the way to the state finals so that means they're a very good team,'' Baltov said. "I want to make sure they realize that. But they all know it anyway.''

Friday, February 15, 2008

Southwood gets mention in Sports Illustrated

Sometimes it's hard for us journalist types to admit we don't know everything.

But I'll freely admit this. When it comes to basketball strategy, I'm far from an expert. Don't get me wrong. I can tell the difference between a man-to-man and zone defense. But if you asked me to describe the intricacies of the motion offense, well ...

Even so, I read a fascinating story in this week's Sports Illustraed about the so-called Dribble-Drive Motion offense used by No. 1 ranked Memphis. It's an offense that uses four perimeter players and one post player who sets up on the opposite side of the ball. It puts emphasis on dribble penetration and gives the perimeter players a wide variety of options.

Apparently, the offense was invented by a former JUCO and high school coach named Van Walberg. According to SI, Calipari first heard about it from Walberg about five years ago while having dinner with him in Memphis.

Appaently, the offense is taking the nation by storm according to SI. Jersey City St. Anthony, the No. 1 ranked high school boys team in the nation, uses a form of it. And an SI survey found that 224 junior high, high school, college and pro teams in the U.S. use it.

The only two Louisiana teams in the survey are Lafayette St. Thomas More boys -- and Southwood boys.

Interestingly enough, Southwood has a new coach in Norm Picou. Also rans last year, the Cowboys have improved five games in the win column this season so far and can wrap up second place in District 1-5A with a victory over Captain Shreve tonight.

Of course, it helps when you have a player like Louis Ellis to run the offense. As Calipari said, "Whatever you're running, you'd better have guys who can play." That, of course, is true of any sport.

Nobody knows that better than Walberg. He is currently unemployed after resigning at Pepperdine on Jan. 18 in his second season. Wildy successful in the high school and JUCO ranks, Walberg was 14-35 at Pepperdine.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Good luck Mustangs

The Caddo Magnet boys soccer team is on the verge of creating some history. The Mustangs are two wins away from becoming the first Division I boys team from Shreveport-Bossier City to claim the state title.

Only one girls team has won a state title - Byrd won the Division I title in 1996 - and only one boys team has won it all - Loyola took the Division II title in 1996.

The Mustangs head down to Covington to play St. Paul's on Saturday. The teams have met earlier this season when Caddo Magnet beat St. Paul's at its tournament.

A win in Covington means Caddo Magnet will play for the state championship in its backyard - Independence Stadium. There may not be rabid Alabama or Oklahoma fans in the stands like there are for Independence Bowls, but you got to figure the Mustangs will have plenty of supporters.

For more on the club, check out their video.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Here come spring sports

So it's 30-something degrees outside and the first of the softball linescores are being called in to The Times.

Yes, it's that overlapping time of the year. Next week, we'll have baseball, softball, boys basketball, girls basketball playoffs and soccer playoffs all going at the same time.

Golf, track and tennis can't be far behind.

But for fans of prep sports, it's soon to be a great time of the year.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

On seedings

Well, well, well.

The LHSAA has its first girls basketball playoff with teams seeded 1-32.

And the reaction was, well, about what you would expect. Teams that got good seeds (Southwood, Parkway, etc.) thought the system worked just fine. Teams that weren't so fortunate (Evangel), thought the system stunk.

If you're looking just at paper, you've got to figure Evangel coach Wendell Delaney has a point about being seeded behind a John Curtis team that finished second in its district.

Unfortunately, we'll probably never know if that district with Curtis and St. James is so tough that both of those teams are thought to be better than Evangel.

Here's one thing you can count on: There is probably little sympathy for Evangel around the rest of the LHSAA.

Hopefully this seeding has nothing to do with football.

The beauty of the playoffs is we'll find out how good all of these teams are. It's just now Evangel's road is a little tougher than maybe Delaney and his team thought it would be.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Patton may be the key for Bossier

Everyone knows the importance of a good point guard in postseason basketball. If you don't, just ask Jerry Tarkanian about how important Anderson Hunt was to that devastatingly dominant UNLV team in 1991.

For Bossier High, that point guard is Tevin Hall. The key to the Bearkats' playoff run, however, may be big man Justin Patton.

The versatile Patton stands 6-foot-6 and, according to coach Jeremiah Williams, "has all the talent in the world."

Patton has put that talent and work ethic together lately and is a big reason Bossier put a 37-point margin between itself and Fair Park on Friday night.

More of the same for Patton would be a welcome sight for the Bearkats.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Long reign ahead in Bossier?

Two sophomores from Bossier City took their place atop the state wrestling mountain Saturday night.

Airline's Matt Rabinowitz and Parkway's Matt Vetkoetter won their first state titles in Kenner and one can only imagine, should they stay healthy, they will be back next February to defend them. And the February after that.

Both had to overcome physical setbacks late in the season. For Rabinowitz, it was battling through a brief illness Friday at the state meet. For Vetkoetter, it was a hyperextended knee shortly before the city and regional championships.

All things being equal -- including health -- you should hear quite a bit out of these two for the next two wrestling seasons.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Happy sad day for Benton

Caleb Guidry is probably the happiest and saddest man around right now.

Guidry's father, longtime Benton boys basketball coach Phillip Guidry, died Thursday because of complications from diabetes. On Friday, Caleb Guidry's Benton wrestling team started their first state wrestling meet as members of Division II.

I'd say both Guidry and the Tigers are doing OK right now. At the halfway point of the meet, Benton is in fifth place, 31 points behind Northside and 6.5 points ahead of parish rival Parkway.

Caleb Guidry did not attend the first day of the meet. He is, however, expected to be in Kenner for Saturday's semifinals and finals.

Caleb Guidry told me in an interview last week one of the Tigers' goals this season was a top-five state finish.

The Tigers are in perfect position to achieve that goal. And you can bet there is someone upstairs watching these Tigers -- along with his beloved LSU Tigers -- along the way.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Look for big things in Kenner

Bossier Parish is full of powerful wrestling programs who battle each other throughout the season.

As far as the head-to-head matchups between Parkway and Airline or Bossier and Haughton or Benton and Bossier, etc., etc., coaches like to think those improve their chances at high-profile meets.

We'll find out in less than 24 hours how true that holds at the state meet.

The area has a bevy of seeded wrestlers including a pair of No. 1 seeds (Airline's Matt Rabinowitz and Parkway's Matt Vetkoetter). Many of them have gone head up with some of the wrestlers in their brackets.

Check out the Division II 171-pound bracket. Benton's Delanie Hall is the No. 4 seed, Northwood's William Copes is seeded fifth and Haughton's Daniel Doran is the No. 6 seed.

That's half of the seeds in the bracket who hail from the Caddo-Bossier area and another example of how good the wrestling is here.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Tale of two signing day announcements

Wednesday afternoon at Calvary was a special day. It was the first "big" signing for the school as wide receiver Khiry Cooper inked his national letter of intent to play for Nebraska.

Yes, Calvary sent a baseball player (Derek Blankenship) to a Big 12 school (Baylor), but Blankenship signed in the summer in front of a small crowd. On Wednesday, Cooper signed in front of a sizeable crowd of students, family, friends and media members.

It was, as major signings go, a tame affair. There was the video package of Cooper's highlights and brief speeches from football coach Doug Pederson, Alex Lee, a friend of Cooper's, Cooper's mother, Yolanda, and Calvary chancellor Ed Hearon. It was a ceremony befitting of Cooper's personality, always smiling yet reserved.

Contrast that with Pennsylvania prep quarterback Terrelle Pryor, considered by some as the top recruit in the nation. Pryor's Wednesday included a room full of journalists who had descended on his school causing a circus-like atmosphere.

And they came for what? To listen to an 18-year-old kid tell them he wasn't going to sign just yet.

Therein lies the long and short of national signing day. One athlete completes his recruiting process to cheers while another drags it out, seeking out another couple of days or weeks in the spotlight.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

UCP update

We finally got the ruling from the LHSAA on the UCP case.

Besides having a student/fan sitting on the bench and then getting involved in a fight, there were a couple of other highlights. UCP's girls basketball coach hadn't been registered with the LHSAA. UCP also didn't complete the game with Sarepta that night.

We would love to hear UCP principal Carmen Heflin's thoughts on the situation or even if she plans to appeal. But Heflin has been dodging our phone calls for a week now.

Considering the careless way UCP has run its athletic program, let's just say, I'm not surprised.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Haughton girls soccer making waves

For all the attention that Caddo Magnet, Captain Shreve, Byrd, Parkway and Loyola get for their soccer programs, there's one program that gets lost in the shuffle - Haughton.

Haughton's girls program has become one of the best stories of the tournament. The Lady Bucs had one of the biggest upsets of Division II, stunning New Orleans-Cabrini. Cabrini won District 7 while Haughton was the wild card.

Still, the Lady Bucs came through with a dominating 5-1 performance to advance to the regionals - the first time they've made it to the regionals in school history.

Haughton is home on Tuesday for their regionals game with St. Michael, the District 5 champion. It's another tough game for the Lady Bucs.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Cooper a Cornhusker

Khiry Cooper has decided on Nebraska as the place he will spend his college athletic career.

He committed Sunday after visiting the campus over the weekend and Cooper seems genuinely happy to join the Big Red.

He said the offense installed by coordinator Shawn Watson and coach Bo Pelini will be eerily similar to the one he ran at Calvary even down to the terminology.

We will have more on Cooper in Wednesday's Times as area athletes prepare for signing day.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

How far will they go?

Kudos to top-ranked Caddo Magnet's boys soccer team for winning its playoff opener today.

You may not think that is much of an accomplishment for the No. 1-ranked team in the state to win its playoff opener, but the first round has been a major obstacle for Magnet in the past.

With that out of the way, look out for Magnet.

And kudos to Byrd. The Yellow Jackets have played in the shadows this year of Magnet and Shreve. Yet Byrd went to Lafayette on Saturday and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the first round.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Usual suspects prevail in girls basketball

I wrote in the girls basketball season preview last November that some new teams could emerge as playoff contenders this year.

A few new contenders did emerge, but for the most part the usual suspects prevailed

Southwood won its 12th District 1-5A title in the last 13 years and reached 30 wins for the 15th season in a row. Byrd, which has struggled recently and was 14-17 last season, improved, though. The Lady Jackets are 19-11 and contenders for a playoff spot.

Southwood, last season's state runner-up, should make a run at its 10th state title.

Parkway won its fourth straight District 1-4A title despite losing four starters off last season's team. Haughton, which was 11-18 last year, had a breakthrough year. After Friday's loss to Bossier, the Lady Bucs (24-8) are tied with the Lady Kats for second place in the district.

Evangel moved up to District 1-2A and had little trouble winning the title after representing District 1-1A as the third-place team in the playoffs last season. Vashni Sharp followed up her fine 2006-07 season with another great season.

Plain Dealing, a perennial power in District 1-1A, has clinched a share of yet another title. Arcadia, the Class 1A state runner-up last season, is also having another successful season.