The excitement continues to build around Hahnville as the Tigers prepare to take part in the Top 28 boys’ state basketball tournament.
No. 10 Hahnville (26-9), the lowest-seeded team still remaining in the Class 5A playoffs, will take on Alexandria, the No. 6 seed, at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles.
“It feels good because we have been working for this for a long time. We knew that we could do it. Now that it’s in our reach, it feels very good,” said Hahnville junior Kaden Pierre.
“It’s a great experience, traveling with my guys, doing a lot. We stuck together through the whole process, through the ups and downs. To finally get here, it’s been 10 years since we’ve been to the final four. Everybody around us, we have a good supporting cast, and it’s been fun,” said Claudell Harris, a fellow junior
“It’s amazing, coming from where we came last year. It’s a big improvement, a big step up from where we were last year. For us to be so young and be so dominant, our first big run has been a good experience and the next few years to come will be better for me with more motivation and confidence,” said sophomore Tyren Lebeauf.
The last time Hahnville advanced as far as the semifinals was in 2009 when the Tigers reached the championship game.
That makes all of this a new experience for the current Tigers, including coach Yussef Jasmine.
“It’s an exciting time,” said Jasmine. “Doing an interview pre-practice and people calling you and congratulating you, it’s the first time I’ve ever done it as a head coach. It’s definitely an exciting time.
“I had a couple of people call me (Sunday) to talk to me about handling itinerary stuff before Monday kicks in because everyone is going to want your attention. Everybody will want to talk and you can get distracted with the basketball part. It’s exciting to be here but we have to focus in on the end goal – that’s win on Wednesday and then win on Friday.”
Hahnville advanced to the semifinals with a 70-67 upset of No. 2 seed Ouachita Parish last Friday in Monroe.
The Tigers trailed through the game, scoring only 37 points through three quarters. Hahnville exploded for 33 points in the fourth quarter to pull out the win.
“I thought Ouachita did a great job of defending us early,” said Jasmine. “They were stopping us from reversing the ball, getting it to the other side of the court. We made some adjustments at halftime to spread they out a little bit more.
“We put Kaden in different positions because he’s always getting guarded by a center, which is a mismatch for us because he can get by them. We’ve done a good job of spreading them out and then we took off from there.”
Pierre was one of the key Tigers down the stretch against Ouachita Parish. He scored nine points in the fourth quarter. Five of his points came off of free throws, a significant factor after Hahnville struggled from the free-throw line in the first half.
“I told the guys to keep fighting and I tried to give it my all, and that’s what I did and I fueled that fire,” said Pierre.
Lebeauf scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, including hitting a 3-pointer.
“We knew if we didn’t come up big in the fourth quarter, we were going back home without a win,” Lebeauf said. “We didn’t want to come back home with loss and let our people down. We kept fighting and kept playing through it and play our best basketball, and that’s what we did.”
Harris scored eight points in the fourth quarter, including hitting a pair of 3-pointers.
“We were down the whole game but nobody was fussing at each other or getting down on each other because in our minds, we didn’t have losing on our minds. We knew we would find a way to win the game, no matter how much we were down. We just had to pull it out in the fourth quarter and pick up our intensity and our defense,” said Harris.
The trio led the Tigers throughout the season and Friday’s game against Ouachita Parish was no different. Pierre finished with 23 points against the Lions while Harris added 19 and Lebeauf 14.
A year ago, Hahnville was knocked out in the second round of the playoffs against eventual champion Thibodaux, a district rival that won all three games between the teams last season.
That proved to be a learning experience for Hahnville.
“Us going through that last year, it’s why we are in the position we are in right now,” said Pierre.
“We remember that hurt from last year,” Lebeauf offered. “We don’t want to experience that again. We are working hard and giving every team our best effort.”
“I feel like we are way more mature now. We can handle pressure situations,” said Harris. “Me being a sophomore last year, personally, I didn’t step up to finish out the game. This year, I’m just trying to make up for my mistakes from last year and lead my younger guys so they don’t do the same thing.”
This year, it was Hahnville’s turn to defeat Thibodaux three times, including a 65-60 win in the opening round of the playoffs.
Perhaps it’s time for Hahnville to pull a repeat with a twist – defeating a district team also called Tigers three times in one season on the way to a state championship.
“There’s no doubt that’s on our minds,” said Jasmine. “We knew when we played that (playoff) game, this situation could present itself again. We have to finish it. We can’t look at Friday (and the state title game). We have to look at Wednesday and focus on today, tomorrow, and when Wednesday comes, we have to focus on Wednesday.”