Undefeated and nationally-ranked, the Destrehan girls basketball team is two victories away from the first state basketball championship in the school’s history.
The Ladycats (33-0) are scheduled to tip off Thursday night (Mar. 2) at 8 p.m. against Natchitoches Central (27-8) in a Class 5A semifinal game. If Destrehan wins, it will advance to the state championship game, which is set to be contested Saturday at 8 p.m. All semifinal and final games will be played at the University Center in Hammond as part of the LHSAA Marsh Madness state basketball tournament.
Destrehan rallied back from an eight-point halftime deficit to qualify for the semifinals, defeating Ouachita Parish 78-63 in the quarterfinal round. DHS bested Airline, 79-29, and New Iberia, 75-48, in the first and second rounds, respectively.
Natchitoches Central defeated Lafayette, 57-39, Ponchatoula, 70-41 and Pineville, 59-39 en route to the semifinals.
This will be the Wildcats third trip to the final four of 5A in the past four seasons. Destrehan last reached the state final in 2014, falling to Mount Carmel, 69-60. The Wildcats were ranked No. 21 in MaxPreps “Xcellent 25” national girls basketball rankings entering the quarterfinal round.
This time, coach Angi Butler believes her senior-laden team is more prepared than ever to bring home a championship.
“That will to win that we have this year … before, we were excited, thrilled, but never really came at it with that same kind of passion and drive,” Butler said. “(This year), I could open the gym up three times a day and they’re gonna show up. That’s how bad they want to win that state ring. And they deserve it.”
Thursday’s game is a rematch of last season’s quarterfinal round, when host Natchitoches Central defeated Destrehan to eliminate the Wildcats, 77-67. But Destrehan has gained a measure of payback on two occasions this season, besting Natchitoches decisively in November, 84-59, then again in January, 80-58.
“It’s very difficult to beat anyone three times,” Butler said. “Having those wins this season, it does give us a little security in that we know we’re talented enough, given that they did beat us last year. Still, we know going into this one, we’re gonna have to make some adjustments, because everybody plays different in the playoffs than they do in the regular season.”
DHS senior Cara Ursin scored 42 points to go with 18 rebounds and six assists in the Wildcats’ quarterfinal victory.
“These girls are amazing,” Ursin said. “I would rather be out here with no one else. I absolutely love this team. Even more importantly, I’ve been playing with this team, particularly these seniors, for my entire life. For us to come together, this feeling is unexplainable.”
The Wildcats will have to find a way to slow Jada Duncantell and junior Jolie Williams, the two standing as Natchitoches Central’s top scoring threats. Duncantell scored 25 in the Chiefs’ 59-39 quarterfinal win over Pineville, getting her team off to a hot start after sinking four first quarter 3’s. Williams added 22 to net the two players 47 of the Chiefs 59 points in the game.
“We know what our target areas have to be and who we have to protect ourselves against,” Butler said.
One thing that suggests an intense game is in the cards is the experience level of both teams. Natchitoches Central reached the state tournament last season, while Destrehan did so in 2014 and 2015.
“Well, you know, it doesn’t come with all the hype it used to (for Destrehan),” Butler said. “Yes, it’s exciting, it’s rewarding and the anticipation is still there, but we understand it’s still a game. Before, it was, ‘oh my gosh, we’re really here.’ We’ve already gotten over that hump.”
Ursin is averaging 28 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists a game this season. Fellow seniors Kiki Kenner (16 points, seven rebounds, four assists), Jerlicia Morris (15 points, two rebounds, one assist) and Brandi Mason (11 points, 10 rebounds and four assists) round out the team’s leading scorers.
The winner of the Destrehan/Natchitoches Central semifinal will advance to the 5A final to face the victor of the other semifinal between Barbe and East St. John.
While Destrehan hasn’t faced Barbe yet, the top seed in Class 5A, a potential familiar foe could be awaiting the Wildcats in the final were East St. John to advance. ESJ is a longtime district rival of Destrehan, and while DHS swept ESJ this season, the latter didn’t make it easy; Destrehan rallied from down 10 at halftime in the second game between the teams.
“That’s a talented crew,” Butler said. “We haven’t seen Barbe, so they’re still a mystery to us. But we know if we have to match up with East St. John, wow, what a great river parish representation that would be.”
After Destrehan’s quarterfinal celebration, the team took time to enjoy the moment — it was the last home game the team’s six seniors would play together.
“It meant a lot to us,” Ursin said. “This game, I felt it. I knew, this being the quarterfinals, we had somewhere to go, (and it’s) to state. These girls are amazing. “I would rather be out here with no one else. I absolutely love this team.”
Said Butler, “We celebrated for, like, an hour. We’re jumping up and down and running around … we definitely celebrate big.”
So, then, if that was the quarterfinal celebration, what awaits if Destrehan seals the state championship?
“Oh, I told them already, nobody’s going to bed,” Butler said. “We’ll find some place open 24 hours. I-HOP or somewhere like that. Nobody’s going home. Nobody’s gonna be able to sleep, we’ll be too excited.”