Wildcats can earn third straight trip to Top 28 with win tonight

Last year, it was a thrilling 90-87 win over Mount Carmel that propelled Destrehan to the Class 5A semifinals. Two years ago, the Wildcats wrapped things up in regulation, but edged Walker by a scant two points to reach the girls Top 28 tournament.

No matter how you slice it, the quarterfinal round has led to some thrilling basketball for Destrehan and its fan base. So, tonight’s quarterfinal game that sees Destrehan travel to Natchitoches Central (6:30 p.m. tip off) may not be for the faint of heart. The winner will advance to the girls Top 28 state basketball tournament in Hammond, which will be played March 1-5.

“This round has always been difficult,” said Destrehan coach Angi Butler. “They’ve been close games, so we can expect that again, and mentally we have to be strong.”

Destrehan and Natchitoches Central faced off this season in a Hall of Fame game exhibition. The Wildcats won that game by three.

“We’ll need to tighten up our defense a little more and get out on them quicker,” Butler said, noting the Chiefs boast some very accurate outside shooters. “They’re not a tall team and they only play about six girls, but they’re good players. They played man against us in that game but they’ve moved more to zone (defense) over the past six weeks, so it’s a different look we’ll need to adjust to.”

Sixth-seeded Destrehan (25-2) has won 13 straight games, while No. 3 Natchitoches Central (25-7) has won 12 in a row. Both teams suffered their last lost at the Allstate Sugar Bowl tournament to Warren Easton, each falling by a margin of three.

The Chiefs began the season with a 6-4 record, but have blistered most of its competition since, taking 19 of their last 22. Natchitoches Central has advanced to the quarterfinal round in five of the past seven seasons.

To get there this season, it bested Hammond and Ponchatoula by scores of 84-48 and 58-48, respectively.

Destrehan, meanwhile, bested Chalmette (20-8) in the first round, 80-40, and then took a 67-55 win over Ouachita (20-12), both wins coming at home.

The 12-point margin of victory in the Ouachita win Monday stands as Destrehan’s closest game since Jan. 8, when it fell to Easton. Eleven of DHS’ 13 wins on its current streak have been by 29 points or more.

Butler said the Wildcats got a huge lift from their bench unit, and there was a definite need for it Monday. Three Destrehan starters fouled out in a game where 50 fouls were called.

“They were able to really step up for us,” Butler said. “I’m super proud of those girls for doing what they needed to do when we called upon them.”

Kali Mealey and Daja Sanchez each made crucial plays, Butler noted, down the stretch in a game Destrehan led by 4 with 2:30 left to play in the game.

Butler said her team’s foul shooting must improve over what the team hopes will be three more games. DHS missed 12 of its 37 free throw attempts against Ouachita.

But even with the misses at the line, Destrehan has able to control the game and overcome a team with a major height advantage.

“Our tallest girl is 5’9”. They’ve got four girls over 5’11 in their starting lineup,” Butler said.

“It goes to show this is a team that can handle any kind of opponent, whether they’re big and tall, or fast and athletic … at this point, these games come down to who wants it more and executes the best.”

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