When there’s a conversation about Class 5A girls basketball in the Baton Rouge area, District 4-5A typically grabs the lion’s share of attention.
Seventh-ranked Denham Springs High, No. 10 Walker High and East Baton Rouge Parish Tournament champion Scotlandville High have established themselves in the spotlight.
That’s not a bad thing, said McKinley High coach Corey Grant, who likes having an unheralded team.
But on Tuesday, the Panthers (18-5, 6-1) travel to St. Amant (20-8, 5-2) with the District 5-5A title on the line and a chance to claim a share of the spotlight. Game time is set for 6:30 p.m. at SAHS. East Ascension (12-9, 3-3) and St. Joseph’s Academy (9-12, 3-3) are tied for third.
“Flying under the radar is fine with me,” Grant said. “Our focus is on winning a district title and getting ready for the playoffs, and I think St. Amant probably feels the same way.”
The season started with challenges for both teams. McKinley lost a projected starter in Kaylyn Mills, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in volleyball.
St. Amant coach Kristy Englade went into labor when the Gators were playing a preseason Hall of Fame game in November. Englade’s daughter Addison was born with cancer that required hospitalization in New Orleans along with radiation and chemotherapy.
Although her daughter has responded well to treatment and recently had an ultrasound that showed no cancer, she has taken extended leave, which has put assistant Darrell Langlois in charge.
Since then, the Gators have lost junior standout Toni Rodriguez and senior Nicole Rodemann to knee injuries. Englade plans to watch Tuesday’s game from the stands.
“It started out that I was only going to be the head coach for a couple of weeks, and it turned out being the whole year,” Langlois said.
“I’ve got to say I couldn’t be prouder of these girls. First we lost Kristy, and then we’ve had some injuries, but they’ve battled. We’ve had several players step up and fill roles. They’ve handled everything they’ve faced so well.”
Added Englade: “I believe God put Darrell in my life for a reason. The team has gone on and done all the things we’d planned on.”
The McKinley-St. Amant story is a tale of two very different teams. With St. Amant’s loss of the 6-foot-1 Rodriguez, McKinley will be the team with the height advantage. Two seniors — Brianna Brown (5-8), who averages 17.0 points, and Angela Udofa (6-1), who adds 15 per game — lead McKinley.
Rondolyn Bryant (6-0) is also in double digits at 10.0. Dajana Arnaud (5-5), Savasia Sanders (5-7) and Daijah Selvage (5-7) are other key players in the rotation.
St. Amant counters with a smaller lineup led by 5-5 sophomore Kara Gremillion, who averages 13.0 points. Katrina Ledoux (5-6), Jaci Lavigne (5-5) and 5-8 post player Jordan Hartman all average around eight points.
“McKinley will probably shoot a little faster because they have those post players who do a great job on the offensive boards,” Langlois said. “We’re going to go a slower pace and take our time looking for the best shots we can.”
Grant said his team expects a much closer game than the one the Panthers won 46-29 in the first meeting. It was a three-point game in the third quarter before MHS started extending its lead.
The game also will be pivotal in terms of playoff seeding. St. Amant, which snapped a 10-year playoff drought last spring, is 13th, and McKinley is 16th.
“Teams have adjusted to us in the second round and have done a better job of defending us,” Grant said. “St. Amant is a good defensive team, and they’ll be prepared. It will be up to us to adjust.”