Bulldogs shut down North Central in final two minutes to earn title game berth

Tryve Brackin

White Castle High rallied from a 46-42 deficit over the final two minutes of play to forge a berth in the Class 1-A championship game last Wednesday night in the Top 28 Boys’ Basketball Tournament semifinals with a 53-46 victory over previously top-ranked and seeded North Central High.

The victory put the 24-9 fourth-seeded WCHS Bulldogs in the title match Saturday afternoon against longtime tournament nemesis Southern Lab at the Cajundome in Lafayette (see article in this section).

The Castlemen hit 7 of 11 free throws down the final stretch and shutdown the North Central Hurricanes offense. WCHS outscored their semifinal foes 11-0 in the final couple of minutes, forcing four turnovers and five costly fouls.

Jumping Jack 6-1 forward-post player Randy Foster was a key factor in the final run for White Castle as he bagged a key layup and free throw for a three-point play to tie the scored with 1:49 left. Then 6-3 forward-post player Terrance Fair made a tremendous rebound shot after a missed jumper by senior Ronald Martin to put the Bulldogs ahead by two with 1:12 left.

From there, free throw baskets by Quadry Allen and Martin sealed the victory. Allen hit both his charity shots first, then Martin closed by hitting two of three.

The NCHS Hurricanes took an early 4-0 lead and then a 6-2 margin, but Allen and Isaac O’Bear bagged key three-point buckets to rally the Bulldogs to a 13-7 advantage at the end of the first stanza. The Castlemen built on the lead with a 14-12 advantage in the second period for a 27-19 halftime margin.

North Central, led by sharp-shooting sophomore guard Nathaniel Francis, rallied back in the third period for a 19-12 advantage. Francis scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half and he joined with teammate Markell Chambers in dishing out key assists to 6-5 post player Howard Wilson to rally the Hurricanes. North Central cut the WC lead to 39-38 by the end of the third stanza and then the Hurricanes blew past the Bulldogs over the early minutes of the final period.

But just as suddenly as the Canes took the lead, the Bulldogs swung the momentum back in their direction down the final two-minute stretch.

“My players have heart. I was not surprised we came back late in the game to win it. They dedicated themselves back in the summer to give it a shot at the title. They are tough-minded. They play all the minutes of a game and do what it takes to win,” explained Coach Ronald Johnson who has led WCHS clubs to two state titles and a handful of runner-up finishes over his 656-241 career mark as the Bulldog head coach.

Coaching on the other end of the court was 800-game winner and veteran mentor Butch Fontenot, who was so frustrated with the way his Canes played in the final minutes of the contest, he declared in the post-game interview that he was giving it up.

“Turnovers late in the game hurt us. It was a lack of discipline on our part. We self-destructed, did not execute, and could not knock down the free throws when we needed them. My kids did not show pride. It was a total breakdown,” commented Fontenot.

The veteran Hurricane mentor also said the loss of starter David Powell with a broken ankle in the first half proved to be a tough hurdle for his club to overcome. He said it was a contributing factor in the loss.

The NCHS veteran coach stood up and declared he had had enough and left the interview room.

“We knocked off the number one team in our classification. They showed they were a good basketball team the way they made that second-half run, but we never gave up. And I never gave up believing in our players,” noted Coach Johnson.

Senior guard Quadry Allen led the Bulldog offense with a game-high 16 points. He was sharp on his outside shooting as well as at the free throw line. Allen bagged 4 of 10 shots from the field, including 4 of 8 from the three-point range and a perfect 4 of 4 from the free throw line. The senior also led the club in steals with a trio.

Also very effective in key moments in the game was Randy Foster. The junior hit 5 of 8 from the field and 2 of 3 from the free throw line for 12 points. He also had a steal and an assist to go with 5 rebounds.

Martin took control of the round ball at key times in the game as the club’ top ball-handler. He led with 10 turnovers, but was still quite effective with a 7 of 11 showing at the free throw line and a team-high 9 rebounds. He finished with 11 key points, an assist and a steal.

Junior Terrance Fair came off the bench and contributed 11 points and 7 rebounds. His put-back gave the Bulldogs their comeback lead in the fourth period.

O’Bear had his important three-point bucket in the first half and added a trio of rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot. Daniel Allen did not score, but he led the Bulldogs with a trio of assists and had a pair of steals.

The game proved to be a battle of two top-notch defensive teams who force turnovers and transition game baskets. North Central actually led the Bulldogs in field goal percentage, 51.4 percent to 39.5 percent, and in steals (10 to 8) and had three less turnovers. The Hurricanes also had the edge in free throw percent (64.3 to 63.6), but White Castle forced them into numerous fouls. The Bulldogs went to the line 35 times and hit 18 points. NCHS hit 9 of 14. Francis and Chambers both fouled out in the late stages of the game. WCHS also led in rebounds 28 to 21.