Near upset of 5A champs fuels Hahnville’s drive

Marcel Byrd and his Hahnville teammates nearly eliminated the eventual Class 5A state champions - and more importantly, perhaps set the program up for greater things going forward.

Thibodaux title win ‘bittersweet’ for Tigers’ coach

Thibodaux’s emergence as Class 5A state basketball champion is a bit bittersweet for Hahnville boys basketball coach Yussef Jasmine and, no doubt also, his players.

The Tigers led Thibodaux by nine in the fourth quarter of their second round playoff game at Hahnville before a furious rally netted the eventual champion a 70-68 victory that ranks as one of the most heartbreaking in the HHS program’s history.

It also might just rank among its most promising, however. Hahnville will return all but one of its primary rotation players next season to build upon the experience the team earned this year, chief among all the lessons learned in that final game that nearly saw the Tigers eliminate the now-state champion.

“I heard some of our guys talking about it today, saying, ‘man, we were supposed to beat Thibodaux, in light of them knowing Thibodaux won state,’” said Jasmine. “We gave them the toughest game. They got us by two and nobody was as close … I think they paid attention to that.”

Of course, the highly-competitive coach still isn’t quite over the disappointment of the loss.

“I mean … ” Jasmine began with a sigh, “you’re up nine in the fourth against that team.”

It was the third meeting of the season between the two teams and District 7-5A foes. The first game saw Hahnville hang tough for a half before Thibodaux slammed the door in the second half.

The second game, at Thibodaux, was much tighter. The playoff game did not represent the lone occasion Hahnville nearly felled the state champs: Thibodaux won on a shot at the final buzzer to earn a 74-72 victory en route to its eventual 40-2 final record.

The second matchup gave Jasmine added confidence in his team’s prospects once the postseason draw came out. In the coach’s first season with the program, the 2017-18 season, a group led by nine seniors earned a No. 15 seed and the school’s first home playoff game in approximately a decade, ultimately bowing out in round one after a loss to West Monroe.

A much younger Hahnville team notched the No. 17 seed in 5A this year and had to go on the road, where it bested No. 16 Lafayette 58-55. Things worked out as Jasmine had hoped: because it could win on the road in round one, his team had the opportunity to instead host its round two game and welcome a top-ranked team his players believed they were on the cusp of beating.

“It’s frustrating because we had worked on closing out games since that second Thibodaux game,” Jasmine said. “And we did a great job of it in our first playoff game against Lafayette. But then we fell a little short against Thibodaux. I think our guys understand the mistakes we made. And with almost all of these guys coming back, it gives us the chance to work on correcting those immediately, before we ever begin next season, and build upon the strengths we have.”

While the loss was a tough pill to swallow for all involved with the Tigers’ program, there was one other element of that playoff game that represented undeniable progress: Hahnville packed 1,500 people into its gym for that game — numerous people were turned away at the door because additional attendees would have violated the fire code — and the fans of both schools created a red hot playoff atmosphere.

Jasmine said it was an important step for the program.

“When you see a successful program, it’s about so much more than two or three coaches and the players … it’s about fans who really believe,” Jasmine said. “The Thibodaux kids had belief they’d win, and so did their fans. And I think our fans know our team was young and that these same kids coming back could have possibly beat the team that won state this year. I think we won a lot of fans that night.

“Like with football here, for years, the fans believe Hahnville should win each game. Now fans are starting to believe our basketball team should win each game. And that’s important.”

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