It took another gutsy effort in a title game that came down to the wire, but the Bossier Bearkats are state champions again.
Bossier, the No. 4 seed, defeated No. 2 Washington-Marion 42-39 in the Class 4A boys basketball championship game Saturday night before a near-capacity crowd at McNeese State’s Burton Complex.
The District 1-4A champion Bearkats finished 27-10. The District 3-4A champion Charging Indians closed their season 23-8 and had a 16-game winning streak snapped.
It was the school’s third state title and second in the last six years. Bossier also won championships in 1960 and 2011.
“To God be the glory, “ Bossier coach Jeremiah William said during the postgame press conference. “We’re some thankful and appreciative of being a state champion again at Bossier High School. The credit goes to my assistant coaches, all these players. We’ve been grinding it out since early in the year and to culminate our season with a state championship is just awesome.”
State titles never come easy, and this season’s was no exception.
Bossier lost its first two games. After reeling off six straight victories, the Bearkats dropped two again for a uncharacteristic 6-4 start.
Just before the start of district play started in January Bossier lost three straight but those games were against very tough competition, including eventual 5A state champ Natchitoches Central and 2A semifinalist North Caddo.
After that, though, the Bearkats won nine of 10 to take win a seventh straight district championship.
They cruised through the first two rounds and then found a way to win three close ones over the Nos. 5, 1 and 2 seeds to win it all.
“I guess our slogan has been, ‘How did we get here?’ “ Williams said. “Considering everything we’ve been through it’s been kind of humbling to know that we got it done and satisfying at the same time that we were able to close the deal out and get the state championship.”
The Bearkats had to deal with some difficult off-the-court issues during the playoffs in addition to battling very tough opponents.
Bossier junior forward Antonio Davis went back home after the Bearkats’ 48-47 semifinal victory over No. 1 seed St. Thomas More for the funeral of his 19-year-old sister Kenyoua, who died Monday after suffering a seizure Sunday night while sleeping.
Davis scored the winning basket with 11 seconds left.
“We hope he’s back there (in the lockerroom) just enjoying this,” said Bossier senior guard Larry Robinson III, named the game’s MVP, during the postgame press conference.
Those affected by the week’s major floods were on the Bearkats’ minds after the game, too.
For a short time, Robinson thought his mom’s house had taken on water but it turned out to be a false alarm.
“It gives our community a little joy to know they have a state champion coming back home despite all that we’re going through with the flooding and whatnot,” Williams said “We’re just so thankful and grateful and humble to be in this position.”
“It’s real big,” Robinson said. “At one point I thought my mom’s house had flooded so I was kind of emotional. This is real special for Bossier, to have one in 2011 and have one in 2016.”
Bossier had a very good contingent of fans make the trip. But Washington- Marion is located in Lake Charles and the Bossier fans were vastly outnumbered.
When the Charging Indians’ D’Vantre Vitor hit a 3-pointer to get his team within one in the final minute, Burton Complex exploded.
“I think our backs were against the wall, but we came through,” Robinson said.
Like Bossier’s previous two playoff games, the championship game wasn’t decided until the final seconds.
Travis Manning sank two pressure-packed free throws with 14.3 seconds left to put Bossier up 42-39. Washington-Marion called time out with 9.3 seconds left.
Vitor put up a contested 3-pointer with about 4 seconds left from the left wing near the Washington-Marion bench. It was too long and Larry Robinson III grabbed the rebound.
With a huge smile on his face, Robinson flung the ball high in the air down court as time expired, setting off a wild celebration.
Robinson had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
But the Bearkats had heroes aplenty as they have throughout the playoffs.
Tyrese English led the team in scoring with 14 points, including three big 3-pointers. His final 3-pointer put the Bearkats up by six early in the fourth quarter.
“It was the crowd,” English said. “They got me going, got me hyped. I felt like they made our team go farther and farther.”
English came up big for Bossier in the playoffs, carrying much of the scoring load.
“It was a long journey from day one, training hard, coach being on our butt day after day, hard practices, conditioning and that’s what got us here,” he said.
Manning made four-of-six free throws in the fourth quarter.
“Real big,” Williams said. “Those last two he hit were humongous.”
Donnell Mason had a huge block. Dontaveious Washington and Chris Davenport had some quality minutes playing defense inside.
The Charging Indians were taller and longer than the Bearkats and it showed early. Washington-Marion blocked eight shots.
The Charging Indians led 25-21 at the half thanks to 3-point shooting. Washington-Marion made five in the first half but just two in the second. They were seven-of-21 overall. Bossier was four-of-12.
“We knew that they were long and rangy and they were going to be aggressive,” Williams said. “It was one of those games where everybody’s adrenaline is going, everybody’s energy is going. We just didn’t want to let them get off to such a good start that when we did settle into the real game minus all the adrenaline and everything to let them get too far out on us.
“They got off to a good start, but when the game settled in we were able to do what we do, play a little defense and get some big stops where we were able to make a run.”
The Bearkats stepped up their game in the third quarter, holding the Charging Indians to just three points.
Bossier scored just seven, but it was enough to tie the game at 28 heading into the fourth.
“What we talked about in the locker room was that we were playing decent defense but we had to get some shots to fall,” Williams said. “We came out in the third quarter and locked up a little bit and had an opportunity to make a run based on our defense.”
It was a physical battle and both teams missed shots close inside. Foul trouble was a key factor. Three Washington-Marion players picked up four fouls, including Christian Edwards, the team’s leading scorer on the season.
Edwards, who averaged about 20 points over the last month of the season, scored just seven points. Cody Stansberry, who hit three 3-pointer, led Washington-Marion with 11 points and L’Marcus Walker added 10.
Manning was the only Bossier player to get in serious foul trouble.
Bossier will lose seniors Robinson, Capers, Mason, Manning and Washington.
But English, Davenport and freshman guard Jacoby Decker all should be back. And as usual, Bossier has plenty of young, talented players eager to show what they can do.
The Bearkats won the junior varsity league title.
Unless the LHSAA reconsiders at some point in the future, Bossier will be the final 4A boys basketball champion under the current decades-old playoff format that divides all state schools into seven classes.
Next season, basketball will be split into select/non-select classes and divisions like football. Bossier won’t face a private school like St. Thomas More in the playoffs.
Regardless, it won’t be a surprise if the Bearkats make a run at a fourth state championship.
Russell Hedges is Sports Editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org