Istrouma boys in unfamiliar territory

The last time Istrouma High made the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s boys basketball semifinals Northern Dancer was the Kentucky Derby winner and future NFL star Bob Hayes was a top Olympic sprinter. The year was 1964.

Such historic notes may not resonate with the current Indians (27-6), who advanced to the Southwest Regional Semifinal with a 68-63 quarterfinal win over No. 3 Alexandria Senior High Tuesday night.

What does motivate coach Aaron Pearson’s team is the desire to make its own history. Istrouma, seeded 11th, plays No. 2 St. Thomas More-Lafayette (30-4) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Lake Charles Civic Center.

“The thing I’ve tried to do is elevate the expectations,” the 24-year-old Pearson said. “I played at Southern Lab, and every year we expected to win a state title. We started out believing that when the season began.

“We end each practice by saying, ‘State Champions,’ and we’ve done that since October. This group has been very focused about what they wanted to do all year.”

Over the years, Istrouma has had its share of quarterfinal berths, the most recent came two years ago. Last year the Indians lost to eventual semifinalist Neville in the regional round.

Istrouma’s rich sports legacy included state basketball titles in the 1950s, before the start of the LHSAA state tournament in 1961. The Indians lost to Lafayette High in the 1963 semifinals and then to Shreveport’s Fair Park in 1964.

“They were excited last night, but this group knows the season is not over yet,” Pearson said. “Winning two more games would put them where they want to be.”

Baton Rouge’s numbers

The Baton Rouge metro area has 12 semifinal teams. Action begins Thursday with three girls games at The Advocate/Southeast Semifinals at SLU’s University Center in Hammond. Baton Rouge has teams in all but two games in Hammond and also has at least two teams set to play at the other sites, Bossier City and Lake Charles.

Seven boys teams and five girls teams have advanced. With No. 2 Scotlandville
(32-2) and No. 4 East Ascension, BR has half the remaining Class 5A boys teams. Istrouma, seeded 11th in 4A, No. 23 Parkview Baptist (18-13) in 3A, No. 2 University High
(31-2) in 2A, No. 1 Christian Life (27-5) and No. 1 Madison Prep (40-6) in Class B are the other remaining BR teams.

Top-seeded Albany (27-8) in 3A, No. 1 University (30-6) in 2A, No. 2 St. Michael the Archangel (32-4) in 4A, No. 2 Baker (24-5) in 3A and No. 5 Denham Springs (26-5) in 5A are the area’s girls semifinalists.

Nearby St. Thomas Aquinas-Hammond has boys and girls teams in the semifinals. Five New Orleans metro teams are in the semifinals.

The Eagles have it

Parkview, seeded No. 23 among 3A boys teams, is the lowest remaining seed in the LHSAA’s boys and girls playoffs.

The Eagles meet No. 3 Farmerville (26-4) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Bossier’s CenturyTel Center. It is the first trip back to the semifinals for PBS coach Don Green since he led the Eagles to 3A titles in 1997 and 1998 in Lafayette.

BR’s Hammond Saturday

Five Baton Rouge boys teams will play their semifinals Saturday at SLU, starting with a Class B semifinal that matches Madison Prep against No. 4 Castor (36-5) at 1 p.m. At 2:45 p.m., defending 1A champion Christian Life takes on No. 4 Metairie Park Country Day (22-8).

Next up at 4:30 p.m. is University vs. No. 3 Riverside Academy (21-5). At 6:15 p.m., No. 4 St. Thomas Aquinas
(26-5) plays No. 8 Winnfield (28-6). Action concludes at 8 p.m. with defending 5A champion Scotlandville playing No. 3 Comeaux (30-4).

Primetime slots

Baton Rouge teams will also play in the final game at the North Regional at Bossier City’s CenturyTel Arena on Friday and Saturday.

The Denham Springs girls play top-seeded Southwood-Shreveport (34-1) at 8 p.m. Friday, while the No. 4 EAHS boys plays No. 1 Ouachita (30-4) at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Semifinal connections

Istrouma will be represented in more ways than one in the boys semifinals.

Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample is a former Indians player and coach. East Ascension coach Kenny Almond also is an Istrouma grad.

Pearson is part of a Southern Lab connection. Northside Lafayette coach Devan Clark is a former SLHS player and assistant coach. Northside
(26-5) plays top-seeded Peabody-Alexandria (29-5) at 8 p.m. Saturday in Lake Charles.