East Iberville girls captures schools’ first state championship
The East Iberville High School athletic program had it share of playoff trophies and runner-up awards, but the most important honor eluded them for decades.
That changed last week with a 50-46 victory against Northwood-Lena in the title game for the Class 1A non-select state championship March 4 at the University Center on the campus of Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.
The victory culminated a season filled with adversity on and off court – enough to make a state championship almost seem improbable.
The pandemic, game cancellations due to COVID and injuries throughout the season made the state title seem like a tall order.
Uncertainty posed the greatest opposition this year’s Lady Tigers.
“That’s the best way to put it … we had plenty of injuries, and there were other things that went wrong,” said head coach Mark Temple, who led EIHS to the state championship after five years at the helm of the program. “We lost three players during the season due to ACL tears, and all three of those girls were starters, so we had to do a lot of makeshift lineups.
“Plus, we had players quarantined during parts of the season, and we had some players who left the team because they feared the coronavirus, so I couldn’t fault them for that,” he said. “But we kept working.”
Injuries and the pandemic created pitfalls for the program, but it did not diminish the team’s drive. In fact, the team’s biggest dose of motivation had taken shape one year before the 2020-21 season.
A loss last year to parish archrival White Castle in the Class 1A quarterfinals knocked EIHS out of the playoffs and left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Lady Tigers.
“I felt that last year was the best team we ever had, but we fell short of the goal,” Temple said. “We got back into a sense of refocus.”
Temple did not let his team forget about the loss against the Lady Bulldogs. In fact, he used it to fuel the intensity for this year’s Lady Tigers.
He declared “We Will Win State” the official motto at the start of 2020-21 season.
It also included the words “Got to Believe.”
“The literal aspect was an old cliché, but I told the players they couldn’t spell believe without the letters ‘E’ and ‘I’,” Temple said.
'STILL HARD TO BELIEVE'
For the players, the championship win still seems surreal.
Senior Dedreka Wilson had her doubts the season would go the duration.
“It felt good to win the title and just get through this season,” said Wilson, who signed to play for Centenary College in Shreveport. “
“I still have a hard time believing we accomplished this,” senior Destiny Riley said. “I thought the season would be cut short due to COVID, but it kept going.
“When we came back after sitting out two weeks, and we started to feel like it was meant to be,” she said. “We all stepped up during the playoff games, and all the way up to the championship because we didn’t want to play like it was our last game.”
For Wilson, it meant she had to overcome a knee injury to continue her goal.
“I was out for a month, and I had to go to practice while going through therapy,” she said. “It was all about hard work, and we all had our share of hard times this season.
“When you want something bad enough, you have to learn to work through it,” said Riley, whose three-pointer tied the championship game. “But the most important thing was that we had to believe in ourselves, each other, our coaches and our fans.”
NO EASY RIDE
The No. 1 seed in the 32-team bracket may have given the impression of a smooth sail to the title, but it was hardly the case for the Lady Tigers.
East Iberville went on an 11-0 rally in the last three minutes of action to stop defending state champ and longtime Class 1A powerhouse North Central in a 52-40 win to become the first EIHS team to ever play in a state title game.
North Central was no stranger to Temple, who had coached against the Lady Hurricanes during his years at Northwood-Lena.
The Lady Tigers led 16-14 at halftime and held North Central to only to baskets in the second quarter to take a 28-18 lead at the half.
NCHS slowed the East Iberville attack during the third quarter and trimmed the Lady Tiger lead to six points heading into the final stanza. EIHS outshot the Lady Hurricane 15-7 to seal the victory.
Taylor Gordon and Dedreka Wilson powered the Lady Tiger attack. Gordon rallied for 22 points and Wilson netted 18, while each had a pair of three-pointers. Ty Mosby posted eight points, while Kinley Scott and Destiny Riley each scored two.
“I just kept going with my motto ‘Never give up,’” Temple said. “We cut our lead down to seven and then to six, and then we locked in on defense and went on a hellacious run.”
The title game brought more adversity for the Lady Tigers, who trailed 18-5 at the end of the first quarter and 29-17 at the half before they turned up the heat with an 18-7 run in the last quarter to capture the title against Northwood Lena. Wilson paced the Lady Tigers with 21 points, while Ty Mosby bucketed 10. Gordon and Riley had seven apiece, while Armani Gordon scored three and Kinley Scott had two.
Mosby, Wilson and Riley each had three-point buckets.
“We basically saw everything we could see this season,” Temple said. “But we just thought about everything we went through – not only this year, but the last five years.”
FRUITS OF THE LABOR
The championship culminated five years of building East Iberville from a struggling girls basketball program to a state powerhouse.
It meant hard work in every practice and every game, Temple said.
“When I first got to East Iberville, we took our lumps,” he said. “We finished second-to-last in district my first season and went district runner-up the next year – a big jump in two seasons, winning nine more games.”
As for the next season, he will still have a solid group of veterans despite the loss of key seniors, but the expectations will be much higher.
It doesn’t mean a repeat is out of the realm of possibility.
“We just have to do the same thing we did this year,” Temple said. “We have to believe.”