The Sulphur Lady Tors host Denham Springs tonight in a Class 5A quarterfinal playoff game. With a win, the Tors would earn a return trip to the Top 28 state tournament. Pictured standing from left: Kourtney Brooks, Cierra Wilson, Lauren Pace and Taylee Kuykendall. Front row, from left: Becca Brooks and Ally Cupit. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, February 27, 2014 11:44 AMSULPHUR — Thirty-two minutes.
That is all that stands between the Sulphur Lady Tors and a return trip to the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Top 28 state basketball tournament.
Three hundred sixty-four days ago the Tors were ousted from the tournament by eventual state champions Southwood, capping off their most successful season since winning the Class AAAA state championship in 1988.
Three starters — Becca Brooks, Ally Cupit and Lauren Pace — returned from that semifinal team, but the loss of point guard Hannah Cupit looked to be a serious blow. The sharpshooter now plys her trade at McNeese State, where she has seen regular minutes off the bench as a freshman.
The loss seemed sure to have an impact from which the Tors likely wouldn’t recover.
“We had some experience coming back this year,” head coach Helen LeFevre said. “We only had one senior last season, then we had another player that is no longer with the team, but we lost a lot of scoring when we lost those two. We weren’t really sure where our scoring was going to come from this year.
“We knew Becca and Ally would step up since they would be seniors and they started all last year, but all four of our (juniors) stepped up as well. They have all stepped up and filled their role on this team, and our expectations had all hinged on how quickly they developed.”
And step up they did.
Behind the outside shooting of Brooks and Cupit, the Tors (28-4) won 14 of their first 15 games, looking prime to repeat as District 3-5A champions and expectations began to rise once more.
“We had three returning starters so we had to get the new people more involved, and we were just focused on coming together as a team and didn’t want to worry about everything else until later on,” Brooks said.
“At the beginning of the season I didn’t think we would make it this far, but we asked coach if we were going to be any good, and she told us that we could be as good as we wanted to be,” Cupit added.
Even with a new-look squad, LeFevre said her team’s style of play hasn’t changed; they still look to press the ball up the floor and use their offensive sets to create open shots. The biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s is the impact of the post game.
“I think our advantage this year is that our inside game is much more developed than it was last year,” LeFevre said. “Teams are coming in trying to stop our perimeter game and they leave us open inside for offensive rebounds.”
Manning the post are forwards Pace and Cierra Wilson. The two juniors have dominated opposing teams in the paint, using their offensive rebounding prowess to create second chances for not only themselves, Brooks and Cupit, but also junior guards Taylee Kuykendall and Kourtney Brooks.
The shooter they are always looking to find first is Cupit, who has made herself known throughout the state as one of the most dangerous outside shooting threats in Class 5A.
“Ally is our shooter; she is out there to put the ball in the goal and she likes that role,” LeFevre said. “As small as she is and even against quicker guards she always manages to find a way to get into the open spots.”
Cupit isn’t the only one with a hot hand from deep, however. Brooks has made a name for herself as not just a floor general, but also as a dynamic scoring threat.
“Becca is a competitor. She plays hard all the time,” LeFevre said. “If you tell Becca she is going to have a hard time stopping a particular player she is going to go out there and prove to you that she can do it anyway.
“Becca always looks to score, but she does a very good job running our offense. I like the ball in Becca’s hands late in the game.”
Brooks, Cupit and the rest of the gang rode the early momentum they built for themselves into district play, capping the season with another district title after finishing 26-4.
Two rounds into the playoffs, the Tors have defeated their opponents by a total of 117-67. Their toughest test, however, stares them square in the face tonight when they host Denham Springs (26-3), which also reached the semifinals in 2013.
“Denham (Springs) has a lot of playoff experience and they are a very fundamentally sound team,” LeFevre said. “Sometimes I look at them and see a mirror image of ourselves, so I think it will come down to who shoots the ball better and gives up the fewest turnovers.”
A win will put the Tors into the Top 28, which will be played at Burton Coliseum, where they like their chances of doing well. It doesn’t hurt those chances that the top two seeds in Class 5A have been upset in the early rounds of the playoffs.
“When you look at the 5A bracket this year, the top two seeds are gone and the perennial powers in the past — Southwood and Natchitoches Central — aren’t there, so I think it is open for anybody and we have the attitude ‘Why not us this year?’” LeFevre said.
The No. 4 Tors’ quarterfinal matchup with No. 5 Denham Springs tips off at 6 p.m.