Eagles earn Sunkist Shootout semifinal spot with win over M.P. Country Day

LAFAYETTE — Central Catholic’s basketball team is headed to the semifinals of the Sunkist Shootout at St. Thomas More for the second straight year.

The Eagles (10-1) beat fellow Class 1A powerhouse Metairie Park Country Day, 51-43, on Wednesday to set up tonight’s semifinal against tournament hosts St. Thomas More (13-2) at 6:30 p.m.

Lloyd Grogan led all scorers with 26 points including a trio of three-pointers from the corner in the first half.

Country Day (6-8) was led by posts Scott Plaisance (10 pts.) and Travis Avery (17 pts.).

The Eagles led 31-14 at halftime as the speed of Grogan, Dontrell Brown and Josh Singleton on fast breaks led to several easy buckets and impressive alley-oops.

Once the pace slowed in the third quarter, Country Day chipped away at the Eagles lead and outscored them 14-6 in the quarter. Jack Kock and Michael Mann both hit three-pointers for the Cajuns and the half court style of play allowed the tall posts to take advantage of the Eagles’ shorter players in the paint.

The game was called closely with the teams combining for 37 fouls, which is similar to the level of officiating the Eagles will see in the playoffs.

“It’s two good 1A teams, we shot the ball really well in the first half and then the game slowed down and we missed too many easy layups and chances to extend the lead,” CCHS coach Ree Case said. “Down the stretch they fouled us and we made free throws.”

It took four minutes for the Eagles to score their first bucket in the fourth quarter. Grogan missed a dunk, foul shots were missed and Nicholas Case grabbed a rebound from Country Day’s two big posts but was called for travelling when he landed with the ball.

Nothing seemed to go right for the Eagles before a Grogan floater ended the scoring drought. Grogan hit several free throws along with Singleton and Tyler Hoffpauir that allowed the Eagles to hang on for the win.

“I thought we played good defense the whole game, but in the second half we missed a lot of easy shots,” Case said. “One thing that’s been our Achilles heel, free throw shooting, we made them down the stretch to win the game. That’s big for us.”

Last season, the Eagles shocked St. Thomas More in a 68-50 win in the Sunkist Shootout quarterfinals.

That result should make for an inspired Cougars team and a packed gym as the hosts look to win its own tournament for the first time since 2009. In the 29-year history of the tournament, the hosts have won nine times.

This week’s prestigious tournament is one of many chances for the Eagles to play tough opponents in non-district, which should pay off once playoff time rolls around.

“It’s a big (tournament), because every night we’re going to play a quality opponent that we’ve got to play good to beat,” Case said. “We played Rummel, a 5A school, in the first round. Country Day is in the Top 28 every year. Tomorrow we’re going to have to play a good team. That’s what we need, we don’t want to go through games where we just show up and win.”

Country Day will get another shot at the Eagles, this time at the Matchbox, on Feb. 4.

If the Eagles win tonight they will face the winner of Ellender’s game against Vandebilt Catholic in the tournament championship at 7 p.m. Friday. The losing teams in the semifinals will play in the third place game at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

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