Tigers advance, will face Amite again in District 9-2A Championship tonight

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FAMILIAR TERRITORY- Independence senior forward Melvin Baker scored 22 points in a 54-28 win over Pope John Paul II to advance to the District 9-2A Championship against Amite. Photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks 

Independence (18-3 overall) advanced past the first round of the District 9-2A Championship on Tuesday, February 6 by defeating Pope John Paul II 54-28. In the championship round, the Tigers will face rival Amite for the fourth time this season.

Senior Tiger forward Melvin Baker scored 22 points to lead all scorers in a game that started slow, but saw the Tigers snowball their lead as they jumped out 40-18 with under two minutes to go in the third quarter.

“I think they had a game plan to try to slow us down and grind it out,” Tigers Coach Ace Misita said. “That’s why we tried to speed the game up early and get that 10 point lead, and then we slowed down. Because for the other team, you can’t slow down and grind when you’re behind by 10.”

Misita said the key to victory last night was to get them out of their game plan, which was initially well executed, to be able to get into their own.

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Tiger guard Michael Otkins. Photo by Matthew Roy

Misita also noted that, once again, his team is in very familiar territory. The Tigers will face Amite for the title game. It’s the third time the two teams have met this season, the first being in the Parish Tournament Championship, and the Warriors have won two out of the three.

“It’s Amite and Independence for the district championship. It doesn’t get any better than this,” Misita said.

Tip off for the District 9-2A Championship game will be tonight at 7:15 p.m. in Amite.

 

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A hero comes home: Amite community honors Devonta Smith

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A HERO COMES HOME- Tangipahoa Parish Councilman Louis Joseph presents Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith with a Proclamation of Recognition signed by Parish President Robby Miller, and proudly holds up the sport page of the Hammond Daily Star featuring Smith’s catch. Photo by Jesse Brooks. 

By Jesse Brooks

On Saturday, February 3, the Amite community dedicated an entire day of celebration to honoring Devonta Smith, the area native who caught the game-winning touchdown for the Alabama Crimson Tide in this season’s National Championship. Smith, a freshman at Alabama, was a three-time Louisiana Sportswriter’s Association All-State selection while playing for the Amite Warriors.

The day started with a morning victory parade through the main streets in Amite City, and it ended will a well attended honor ceremony in the evening at the Amite Community Center.

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Amite City Coucilman Kris Hart recognizes former Warrior Devonta Smith. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

The ceremony was attended by various prominent figures associated with the Amite football program. Former Warrior David “P.J.” Franklin, who furthered his career with Tulane and the New Orleans Saints, served as the featured speaker for evening. Youth coach Eric Jackson shared his memories of a young Smith, as well as former Warriors coach Alden Foster. Current Warriors head coach Zephaniah Powell praised his former star, and credited him with bringing Amite football to another level.

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Former Warrior and New Orleans Saint P.J. Franklin. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

 

“What a lot of people forget is that there is no professional football in the state of Alabama,” Powell addressed the audience. “In Louisiana we have the Saints, some people in Mississippi support the Saints, but in Alabama it’s all about Crimson Tide football. What people might not understand is that Devonta is a living legend in the state of Alabama. Over there, it’s like you have up top Bear Bryant, then Nick Saban and somewhere on that spectrum it’s Devonta Smith, an 18-year-old freshman from Amite, Louisiana.”

Powell recalled being overwhelmed at the sight of Smith on the cover of Sports Illustrated, noting that the cover has been reserved for figures like Muhammad Ali, Tom Brady and Michael Jordan.

“I just want to thank you, Devonta, because without you there is no me,” Powell said.

Throughout it’s history, Amite football is a storied program that has produced SEC Champions, National Champions and even Super Bowl Champions. The Warriors hold claim to four state championship titles (1963, 1994, 1999, 2004) and five runner-up appearances. As recent as this season, former Warrior defensive back Reggie Porter joined the Cleveland Browns’ active roster as an undrafted free agent. Porter was a teammate of Saints rookie safety Marcus Williams at Utah.

“This is Amite and it was there before me,” Smith said. “Right now this is the plan God made for me, but this was definitely here before me. This is Amite and it’s what we do.”

Smith also said that it meant a lot that a program like Alabama showed enough confidence in him when it mattered most. The 41-yard catch that lifted the Tide 26-23 over Georgia in overtime was the only one Smith recorded in that game.

“When the play was called, I just looked at my quarterback and I said ‘trust me, bro’,” Smith said.

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REUNITED- Devonta Smith pictured with former Warriors teammate Devonta Lee. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

What Smith leaves behind in Amite is a Warrior program with a bright future.
Former teammate and current Warrior Devonta Lee spoke words of congratulations and acknowledged that he has learned a lot from Smith. In about a year’s time Lee and teammate Ishmael Sopsher, the nation’s top defensive lineman, will go through the same hectic “final decision” in the college recruiting process.

“Go where you want to go and don’t listen to what other people are saying,” Smith said as advice for Lee and Sopsher. “Go where God wants you to go. You can’t go anywhere for someone else. You have to go there for you.”

Before the evening closed, Smith was honored by officials in local government. Amite City Councilman Kris Hart presented a Plaque of Recognition that was approved by Mayor Buddy Bell, and Tangipahoa Parish Councilman Louis Joseph presented Smith with a Proclamation of Recognition signed by parish President Robby Miller.

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Former Warriors coach Sam Petitto is a current member of Nick Saban’s coaching staff, and he was also recognized by the Amite City Council for his accomplishments.

Independence Boys get win on senior night

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MILESTONE- Independence senior forward Melvin Baker has scored over 1,200 points in his high school career. Photo by Jesse Brooks

By Jesse Brooks

On Senior Night, the Independence boys basketball team cruised to a 68-42 victory over District 9-2A opponent Pine on Friday, February 2. The win has the Tigers finishing 17-3 overall in the regular season, and 7-1 for the district’s best record. Friday’s win qualifies the Tigers for the No.1 seed in the upcoming District 9-2A Tournament.

“This is the first time they’ve done a district tournament that I’m aware of, but it’s pretty much structured like college,” Tigers Coach Ace Misita said. “You go into into those conferences like the SEC, ACC or Big Ten and you try to win or punch your ticket to the Big Dance.”

Despite early hot shooting from beyond-the-arc, the Tigers captured an 11-8 lead following back-to-back buckets by senior forward Melvin Baker, who led his team with 20 points total. A Pine 3-pointer tied the score at 11-11 with 2:19 left in the first quarter, but the Tigers soon launched a 16-0 run that started with getting points off of turnovers. DeAngelo Gaines scored on two 3-pointers during the run, and the run also featured steal-and-scores from Gaines, Kelvin Barnes and Genord Perry.

Following the run, the Tigers led 27-13 with 3:56 remaining the first half. Pine responded with an 8-0 run of their own that only ended with a Perry steal-and-score inside of the final 10 seconds of the first half. The Tigers would lead 29-20 at halftime.

“There were several first-half layups we just missed,” Misita said. “Normally we’re a 65 percent free throw shooting team, but we just didn’t have it tonight. Luckily, I think we made up for it on the defensive end, and that gave us offensive opportunities.”

In the second half, Baker came out firing to score nine consecutive points that included one 3-pointer and one fast break dunk. Going into the fourth quarter the Tigers led 47-26.

Baker checked out of the game with 3:05 left to play, to a standing ovation, and the Tigers held a 62-31 lead.

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In a touching moment before the game ended, Bryson Knight, a senior for Pine, checked into the game and caught fire by scoring 14 points mostly from deep. Knight recently lost his father to in an automobile accident on the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway last week. Knight’s fourth quarter scoring display qualified him as his team’s leading scorer in the game.

WATCH: BRYSON KNIGHT’S HIGHLIGHTS

Independence is currently ranked No. 9 in the LHSAA Class 2A Power Rankings.

MUSIC CALENDAR – February 2017

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ARTIST OF THE MONTH- The Angry 88 are original Hammond City punk rock for bring a CBGB style noise to South Louisiana in modern times. Catch them at Mad Maiden’s in Ponchatoula on February 16. Photo courtesy of the band’s Facebook.

HAMMOND

2/17 – Casey Saba @ Red White & Brew: 21+ 8 p.m.

PONCHATOULA 

2/16 – The Angry 88, Shadow Giant and McQueenery: 21+ 10 p.m.

2/24 – The Telegraph Salesman @ Mad Maiden’s: 21+ 10 p.m.

2/24 – Webbie w/ Sassy D @ 1111 SW Railroad Avenue: 21+ 8 p.m.

BATON ROUGE

2/23 – Cory Branan w/ The Weeping Willows @ Manship Theater: All Ages 7:30 p.m.

2/24 – Alejandro Escovedo @ Manship Theater: All Ages 7:30 p.m.

MADISONVILLE

** OPEN MIC EVERY FRIDAY @ Abita Roasting Co.: all ages 7 p.m.

MANDEVILLE

2/17 – Alex Bosworth w/ Hank Mackie @ The Lakehouse: 7 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS 

** Rebirth Brass Band @ The Maple Leaf EVERY TUESDAY: 21+ 10 p.m.

** Percy J @ The Maple Leaf EVERY WEDNESDAY: 21+ 10 p.m.

2/16 Green Mantles @ Checkpoint Charlie’s: 21+ 10 p.m.

2/16 – Lilli Lewis @ Little Gen Saloon: All ages 7:30 p.m.

2/16 – Noisewater @ Le Bon Temps Roule: 21+ 11 p.m.

2/16 – Struthers @ Maple Leaf: 21+ 11 p.m.

2/16 – Lenny Zenith @ Portside Lounge: 21+ 8:30 p.m.

2/16 – Vox and the Hound @ Three Keys: 21+ 9 p.m.

2/17 – Kermit Ruffins @ Little Gem Saloon: All Ages 9 p.m.

2/19 – St. Vincent @ Civic Theater: All Ages 8 p.m.

2/19 – The Porter Trio @ Maple Leaf: 21+ 10 p.m.

2/22 – The Revolution (Prince’s band) @ Joy Theater: 21+ 8 p.m.

2/24 – Tab Benoit @ House of Blues: 18+ 8 p.m.

2/25 – Cory Branan @ Portside Lounge: 21+ 8 p.m.

2/25 – Joywave @ Gasa Gasa: 8:30 p.m.

BILOXI

2/16 – Daughtry (acoustic evening) @ IP Casino: 21+ 8 p.m.

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS

2/24 – The Underhill Family Orchestra @ Government Street Grocery: 21+ 7 p.m.

Amite Boys end Independence’s nine-game win streak; Tigers beat Pine on the road

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THE POWER- An aggressive Devonta Lee led the Amite boys to a 70-40 win over Independence with 21 points on Tuesday, January 30. Photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks

INDEPENDENCE- The Amite boys basketball team (13-10 overall, 6-1 district) avenged their last loss to Independence by putting together an aggressive defensive game plan that turned turnovers into points. In the end, the Warriors ran over the Tigers with a final score of 70-40 on Tuesday, January 30.

“The difference tonight was intensity,” Warriors Coach Ronald Cox said. “I want to give credit to Coach Gordon who took over the defense. When we play aggressive and discipled on defense, with our athletes, we can beat anybody.”

The Warriors jumped out to a 7-0 run by getting buckets in transition. Tiger guard DeAngelo Gaines stopped the early bleeding by getting his team’s first two points on a layup. Devonta Lee, who led the Warriors with 21 points, made his presence known by scoring on early touches inside of the paint. Melvin Baker, who finished with 11 points, tried to spark the Tigers with a 3-pointer inside of a minute of the first quarter, but Lee answered with two foul shots with :07.6 on the clock to give the Warriors a 16-9 edge going into the second period.

“Devonta Lee is our best player, and he’s more aggressive now,” Cox said. “He was our leading scorer tonight and when he plays like that we are much better.”

After Kelvin Barnes made good on a basket in the second period, Warrior center Tyrus Wheat threw down a monstrous dunk that inspired an 8-0 run for Amite. Baker stopped the run by making a 3-pointer, but the Tigers were still trailing 32-17 with 2:27 left in the first half.

Despite a second half dunk for Baker, and a 3-pointer for Jaden Howard, the Warriors did their part to widen the gap. Midway through the third quarter, Dereon Edwards sank a shot beyond-the-arc to put the Warriors up 53-34.

“They pressured us and rotated better,” Tiger Coach Ace Misita said. “We had a game plan in place. Everybody’s got a game plan until they get hit in the mouth. Amite hit us in the mouth and we didn’t respond.”

For a majority of the final quarter, the Warrior defense prevented any kind of offensive runs for the Tigers.

“You have no choice to move on from games like this. It’s like being a defensive back in football. You gave up a touchdown. Now, move on,” Misita said. “We have Pine tomorrow night and Pine on Friday. Those games determine if we get the No. 1 seed so let’s take care of business.”

Amite and Independence were competition for seeding in the upcoming District 9-2A Tournament. Now that the Tigers have fallen to Amite for their only district loss, they need to win out their remaining games to clinch the No. 1 seed.

In the LHSAA Class 2A Power rankings, Independence is listed at No. 9 and Amite comes in at No. 16.

On Wednesday, January 31, Independence defeated Pine on the road 68-32. Baker led all scorers with 24 points. The victory puts the Tigers at 16-3 overall and 6-1 in District.

The Tigers host Pine on Friday, February 2 and the Warriors will host Northlake Christian on the same date with a tipoff around 7 p.m.

OFA Boys bounce back from losses with two straight wins

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RISING UP- OFA Senior forward Chris Backa scored 15 points in a 47-31 win over Presbyterian Christian on Tuesday, January 30. Photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks

Despite experiencing back-to-back losses to Jackson Prep and Columbia Academy last weekend, the Oak Forest Academy boys basketball team started this week off with two consecutive wins. With an overall record of 16-7, the Yellow Jackets have their sights set on building momentum for a postseason run.

“We have had to change a good bit within our system offensively and also defensively the last 6 games, but the guys are still playing hard,” said OFA Coach Curtis Matherne. “Our approach at the end is to be the most prepared, the hardest working, and play with the most togetherness. We preach the small things all year, now is to time to make sure every slightest detail is performed and not forgotten.”

Matherne admits that the Jackets’ win ratio is not as consistent as earlier in the season, but says that his players are working extremely hard against tough competition as they are near the end of the MAIS AAAA Div. 1 schedule. He praised their ball movement and the fact that some players are contributing more now that their confidence is up.

One such player that seems to have been awarded the green light is freshman guard Jaden Collura who has seen an increased role off the bench this January. On Tuesday, January 23, Collura scored a season high 22 points in a 57-47 road victory over Parklane Academy in McComb, Mississippi. Senior guard Janero Porter also contributed 16 points in the Parklane win.

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THE NEW SURGE- Freshman guard Jaden Collura have given OFA a major lift in outside shooting. He scored 22 point in a 57-47 win over Parklane Academy on January 23. Photo by Matthew Roy.

Collura also led the Jackets with 17 points in their 56-33 win over Bowling Green on Monday, January 29. Collura, Carter Blanchard and Jon Jovi all knocked down 3-pointers to build a commanding 28-12 lead with about five minutes remaining in the first half against Bowling Green. OFA led by 36-14 after senior forward Chris Backa hit a shot from beyond the arc with 30 seconds before the intermission. Backa also looked strong on the boards and scoring in the lane as he totaled 11 points. Porter also contributed 11 points in the win.

“We will continue to look to find places in games to pressure and play fast paced, but also slow it down and grind it out when needed,” Matherne said.

OFA brought that mindset into a conference game with Presbyterian Christian at home on Tuesday, January 30, and the Jackets pulled off a 47-31 victory. Porter led the Jackets with 16 points, and Backa was second in command with 15 points.

OFA will hit the road on Friday to take on Madison-Ridgeland Academy for their last conference game in Madison, Mississippi. Tipoff will take place around 7 p.m.

Independence boys eye taking District 9-2A title Tuesday night

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BE READY- Reserve guard Jaden Howard hit five 3-pointers on Wednesday, January 24 to help lift Independence to a 64-61 victory over Varnado. File photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks

The Independence Tigers have made a case for being the best boys basketball program in Tangipahoa Parish by compiling a 16-2 overall record going into the final week of the the regular season. The Tigers now have the opportunity to seal up the District 9-2A Championship with if they defeat Amite a second time Tuesday night.

Leading the charge for Independence is senior forward Melvin Baker who has scored 20 or more points in eight consecutive games, and has done the same feat in 11 out of the last 12 games.

In addition to Baker’s consistent scoring, the Tigers are finding lift from members of the supporting cast. In a home game against Varnado on Wednesday, January 24, Baker scored 20 points to lead the Tigers. However, the the lift to earn a 64-61 victory came from reserve guard Jaden Howard who hit five shots beyond the arc for a total of 15 points.

On Friday, January 26, the Tiger defeated district opponent Northlake Christian for a second time with a final score of 58-30. Baker led all scorers with 24 points and junior guard DeAngelo Gaines also contributed 22 points.

Despite falling to Amite 44-35 in the Tangipahoa Parish Tournament in December, the Tigers held off a second half rally to defeat the Warriors 59-50 in their gym, on January 12 to solidify a district lead. Winning a second matchup would mean that the Tigers lock up the district title. Even if Independence were to lose their final regular season game to Pine (0-5 district), they would hold a tie-breaker over Amite.

Orgeron hosts Sopsher family and other Tangi products for LSU visit

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CENTER OF ATTENTION- Amite Warrior Ishmael Sopsher, the No. 1 DT in the nation, visits LSU with his family last Saturday. His brother Rodney, far right, just finished a season at South Louisiana Community College. Photo submitted by Ishmael Sopsher.

By Jesse Brooks

On Saturday, January 27, LSU Coach Ed Orgeron hosted a double-digit group of recruits for junior day. Representing Tangipahoa Parish were defensive linemen Ishmael and Rodney Sopsher, wide receiver Devonta Lee and Kentwood wide receiver Trey Palmer.

While the evening was an impressive showing by LSU to several home grown prospects, it was the Sopsher family that spent significant time inside of Orgeron’s office after the event.

Sopsher, who is regarded by most as the second best player in the nation, can basically play for any program that he wants. However, he did acknowledge that playing for the Tigers would mean that his hometown of Amite would be just 45 minutes away. He is keeping his options open at the present, but did confirm that Orgeron believes a major upswing for the Tiger program could start with him and others from Tangipahoa Parish.

Sopsher’s former teammate Devonta Smith rocked the nation recently as the wide receiver that caught the game winning touchdown for the Alabama Crimson Tide in the National Championship. Shyheim Carter, a top prospect from Kentwood’s 2015 LHSAA 1A State Championship, also plays for Alabama’s defensive secondary.

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HOME GROWN- (from left) Kentwood WR Trey Palmer, Amite DL Ismael Sopsher and Amite WR Devonta Lee. Photo submitted.

Another current Warrior with plenty of national attention is Lee who has the potential earn time on the field as a freshmen with any program. Lee is a physical receiver at 6’3 and 200 lbs., a contrast to Kentwood’s Palmer who run a 4.48 in the 40. If the trio of of Sopsher, Palmer and Lee all were to commit to the same program there is potential for Tangipahoa Parish to be placed on the highest stages of competition for years to come.

 

Lakeshore QB Penton verbally commits to Southeastern Louisiana

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CLOSE TO HOME- A Class of 2018 standout, Lakeshore QB Chris Penton has verbally committed to Southeastern Louisiana. Photo by Herb Gomez.

UPDATE: As of 2:49 p.m. Fox Sports reports Tulane offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo has taken the head coaching job at Southeastern Louisiana.

By Jesse Brooks

Despite Head Coach Ron Roberts leaving Southeastern Louisiana to fill the defensive coordinator vacancy at Louisiana-Lafayette, the Lions are picking up Lakeshore quarterback Chris Penton according to the athlete’s announcement today on Twitter.

Penton is regarded as the best quarterback in LHSAA 4A this past season, leading the Lakeshore Titans to the State Championship where they fell 48-26 to Edna Karr, ending an incredible undefeated streak at 16-1 overall.

The 2017 season was a dramatic turnaround for the Titans out of Mandeville, improving from a 5-5 regular season record in 2016.

In 2017, Penton completed 211 of 314 passes for a total of 3,790 yards in the air and 43 touchdowns which qualified him as the leading passer of the New Orleans Metro-Area this season. The 6’0 and 185 lbs. quarterback also totaled 4,159 All-Purpose Yards and eight rushing touchdowns. His combined total of 51 touchdowns his senior year was more than any player in the state of Louisiana.

As a head coaching candidate has yet to emerge for the Lions, the Louisiana Sportswriter’s Association 4A Offensive Player of the Year is excited to wear the green and gold.

“Big thanks to Coach Graves, Coach Stevens and Coach Lace for the opportunity. Let’s go get some rings!” Penton shared on social media.