Warren Arceneaux column: No shortage of state title contenders

Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2023

As usual, there is no shortage of area contenders for girls basketball state championships, with usual suspects Fairview, Hathaway and St. Louis Catholic in the mix.

This year we could have some new faces making playoff runs in both boys and girls hoops, as a handful of programs in Southwest Louisiana have made big strides this season.

Perhaps the biggest turnaround has occurred at Hamilton Christian, which is 21-4. The Warriors have won eight of their last nine games, with the lone loss by three points to Oberlin.

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The Warriors have a dynamic scorer and playmaker in guard McKenzie Deville and a pair of post players who can score in Journi Singleton and Riley Fontenot.

New head coach Edwin Colbert has the Warriors playing an up-tempo style, which allows Deville room to attack the rim in open-court situations.

The Warriors are sixth in the select schools Division IV power ratings and in position to host at least one playoff game. Hamilton hasn’t won a postseason game since the 2009-10 season and has already more than doubled last season’s win total of 10 and matched last year’s district win total of three.

The LaGrange boys have clinched the District 3-4A title and are in position to host a playoff game, sitting at No. 13 in the non-select Division II power ratings. The Gators have won 12 consecutive games with a deep roster led by wing Omarion Randolph and guard Knyles Randall.

The Gators win with defense and a balanced scoring attack, holding eight opponents to fewer than 60 points in the winning streak. LaGrange last won a playoff game in 2019 and finished 12-16 last season with a 2-6 district record.

Hackberry has also clinched a district title, winning its first seven games in 4-C play. The Mustangs are 16-14 but are only 21st in the non-select Division V power ratings, meaning they may have to travel in the first round of the playoffs. Last year the Mustangs finished 3-7 in district play and won 10 games overall.

Lake Charles College Prep’s boys are tied atop the District 3-3A standings after losing a heartbreaker at home to co-leader Iowa on Friday night. In the second year under head coach Sean Andrus, the Trail Blazers have made a big leap forward. Last season, the Blazers won 16 games, which was a seven-win improvement from the 2020-21 season. They can make a similar improvement this season and earn a share of the district championship by winning out in their last four regular-season games. Each game is against an opponent the Blazers have already beaten.

Prep has one of the deepest rotations in the area, with Andrus able to substitute players five at a time. Senior point guard Ryan Batiste can score and distribute while multi-sport star Elijah Garrick is one of the area’s top athletes. Dre Polidore gives the Blazers an inside presence and Martin Young is a sharpshooter on the perimeter.

The Blazers blew a big lead late in the game against Iowa, but held a lead for most the game. Prep has won nine of its last 12 games and are sixth in the select school Division II power ratings, which would mean at least one home playoff game and a chance to avoid either of state powers Madison Prep and Peabody — the top two seeds — until the semifinal round, should the Blazers make it that far. Prep last won a playoff game in 2019, which ended a streak of three consecutive seasons with a playoff win.

In Class 2A, Welsh is having an improved season, with the Greyhounds atop the District 5-2A standings with a 17-8 overall mark and 7-1 record in district play. Head coach Caleb Gary, a former Greyhounds football star, has the ‘Hounds in position to host a playoff game as the No. 9 seed in non-select Division IV. That bracket could have a heavy local flavor, with Oakdale sixth, Elton eighth and Pickering 10th at the moment.

Warren Arceneaux covers high school athletics. Email him at warren.arceneaux@americanpress.com