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Area's top basketball minds

Last Modified: Monday, March 24, 2014 1:20 PM

By Rhett Manuel / American Press

Timing is everything in life, and the timing played a big part for all four coaches named Coach of the Year in the American Press All-Southwest Louisiana team.

St. Louis’ Rick LeBato and DeRidder’s Tammie Gibson are the All-Southwest Louisiana Big Schools Coaches of the Year while Fairview’s Ron Stark and Lake Arthur’s Edie Higgins were given the Small Schools awards.

LeBato wins the big schools boys honor after the Saints finished the season with a 21-10 record and made it to the Class 3A quarterfinals for the first time since 2007. They came within a last-second tip-in by All-Southwest first-team guard Kelvin Henry of advancing to the Top 28 state tournament for the first time since 1998.

“I’ve noticed in the past that if your older kids are your best workers you tend to have a good year,” LeBato said. “So our seniors (and) our older guys were really the ones that got it going.”

Gibson coached the DeRidder girls, led by big schools first-teamer Breannah Bretches, to a 26-8 record and the Top 28 in her final season at the post where the Lady Dragons lost to Warren Easton 63-51. She is retiring after eight years at DeRidder — five as head coach with a 120-68 record — and 20 years total coaching on an off-and-on basis. Gibson said she will stay at DeRidder, working as a counselor and coaching cross country.

“This has just been an outstanding group of girls,” she said. “They would run through a wall for me if I asked them to. The times are changing … my last Top 28 I went to was at East Beauregard. I just think it’s time for somebody else to take over the reins, but I’ve enjoyed the season with the girls. I just hated we couldn’t win it all.”

Stark’s Fairview Panthers dreamed about playing for a state title for a while, having made the Top 28 six times but never getting beyond the semifinals. The Panthers broke through that barrier this season, going 33-6 along the way and making the Class B title game behind All-Southwest Small Schools Player of the Year Brennan Maddox.

While the Panthers lost 61-51 to Midland, a runners-up trophy and Stark’s second consecutive Small Schools Coach of the Year award aren’t bad consolation prizes.

“We lost three really good boys last year,” he said. “Josh Walker was (last year’s) small school player of the year. He went to (LSU-Shreveport) and was conference freshman of the year. “Losing those three, I knew it was going to be a challenging year. But I knew these guys had played together so long that if the chemistry was right we’d be just fine.”

Higgins, in her third year at Lake Arthur, took the Lady Tigers to the Class 2A state semifinals for the first time in nearly four decades. Though they lost a 49-47 heartbreaker to Doyle in Burton Coliseum, Lake Arthur stacked up a 28-4 record and took home the District 4-2A title for the first time in 10 years behind Higgins and All-Southwest first-teamer Elizabeth Guidry.

“Our kids put in a lot of hard work and dedication and it paid off,” Higgins said. “Without my kids showing up every day and giving everything they had this wouldn’t be possible.”

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