MONROE — Scotlandville boys basketball coach Carlos Sample rejects the notion that his team is trying to defend a title.
Instead, Sample considers Saturday night’s Class 5A title-game matchup with top-seeded Ouachita to be a signature moment for a Hornets squad no longer in the shadow of any previous Scotlandville team.
Scotlandville (33-2), the defending champion making its fourth straight final appearance, meets Ouachita (31-4) in the 5A game that concludes the four-day Louisiana High School Athletic Association/State Farm Top 28 Tournament.
Game time is set for 8 p.m. at the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Fant-Ewing Coliseum. The 5A girls game between Southwood and Natchitoches Central tips off at 6 p.m.
“It’s been a real journey for this group,” Sample said. “For them, it’s been all about staying humble, working hard and finding their own identity. That’s why I don’t think we’re defending anything.
“These guys are making their own mark, and they know this game won’t be easy. We’ve played Ouachita before. We know it will take 32 minutes.”
Even though the Hornets have just two losses, the season has included its share of challenges. The first was replacing three starters from the team that won the school’s first state title last spring.
It was easy to pencil in 6-foot-9 Damian Jones. The Vanderbilt signee started a number of games the past couple of years. The transfer of 6-5 senior Brian Bridgewater, a heralded all-state player from 2A Episcopal, could have been a blessing and an issue.
When Bridgewater moved in, 6-8 senior Jared Sam moved out of the lineup. Sam has become an unsung hero for the Hornets, averaging 8.7 points off the bench.
“I want the team to win,” Sam said. “Everybody has a role, and mine is to come off the bench and bring energy. I come in with fresh legs looking to play with intensity. Since last year, I think I’ve improved how I run the floor. I try to do whatever the team needs.”
The Hornets have settled into a unit with four double-figure scorers. Jones leads the way with a 15.5 average, followed by Bridgewater (15.3) and 6-1 senior guard Tre’Lun Banks (14.4). Junior guard Vincent Sanders adds 12.5 a game. Ezekiel Brown (6.2) is a guard who comes off the bench.
It has been more than three months since Scotlandville, the No. 2 seed, took a 65-60 win over Ouachita in the Zachary Tournament.
Like Scotlandville, the Lions are balanced on offense and are led by 5-11 Chris Sumbler (16.1 points per game), 5-10 Yettra Specks (15.4) and 6-5 Cameron Sims (13.3).
Sounding more like a coach than a player, Sam stressed the importance of defense and playing with consistency.
“Ouachita is a team that never gives up,” Sam said. “We know they’re going to come at us. We’ve got to be solid on defense and do the things we’re supposed to do.”
NATCHITOCHES CENTRAL VS. SOUTHWOOD: The top two seeds also meet in the girls final, an intriguing matchup of north Louisiana powers.
With 10, Shreveport-based Southwood (32-1) has more state titles in the 5A era than any other girls team. But Southwood has lost the past three title games. Natchitoches Central (27-4) started Southwood’s finals slump with a win 2010.
Because the two teams are from different districts, this will mark their first meeting in 2012-13. Southwood’s lone loss came to Flower Mound, Texas, on Dec. 1.
Kourtney Pennywell, a 5-9 forward, leads Southwood with a 15.2 scoring average. Guards Chelsea Tieuel (12.6) and Jessica Ellis (12.4) also provide balance for coach Steve
McDowell’s team. Victoria Rachal (5-7) leads coach Emma Boozman’s NCHS squad with a 16.5 average. Gabriella Cortez adds 12.3 points a game.