Game Time: Midland vs. Rapides for all the marbles

CROWLEY – Todd Briley has a simple message for his Midland Rebels heading into tonight’s Class B state championship showdown with No. 1-seed Rapides.

That message: forget about Tuesday night and focus on today.

And while that may be easier said than done, it is imperative the Rebels do just that if they hope to win their first Class B state championship since 1977.

The Rebels, who meet the Mustangs tonight at 6 o’clock at the Cajundome, are coming off a dramatic 79-78 overtime victory over 12-time state champion Zwolle Tuesday. In that game, the Rebels shot a blistering 60.9 percent from 3-point range and 50 percent from the floor to instantly become media darlings.

The following day, they were the subject of newspaper articles, chatroom forums and radio talk shows.

“We are going to have to get over that because this next one is going to be just as tough: these guys (Rapides) can play,” said Briley, whose team finished 14 of 23 from 3-point range, including five treys in just over two minutes late in the first half.

Rapides (43-5) defeated Fairview, 83-75, in the second Class B semifinal Tuesday to advance to the title game for the third straight year.

Rapides forced numerous turnovers in its semifinal contest and that’s something that has Briley on edge.

“I think Rapides is going to pressure us a lot like Zwolle did, especially after the way we shot the ball Tuesday,” said Briley, whose Rebels are 34-3. “We had quite a few turnovers Tuesday, even though we won the game. We are going to have to limit those and shoot the ball well again.”

Rapides doesn’t possess the height advantage over the Rebels that Zwolle did, but the Mustangs do have a 6-foot-3 center in C.J. Johnson and a 6-foot-1 forward in D.D. Birdlong. They also have a pair of 6-foot-1 guards in Tremain Woodruff and Kevin Toney.

That size advantage was critical in the Mustangs’ semifinal game, enabling them to outrebound Fairview 46-35.

“They are not quite as tall as Zwolle, but they are just as good and they have a little bit better guard play,” said Briley, whose tallest player stands just 6-foot-1.

“We’re going to have to hit some shots and be able to rebound. Rebounding is what hurt us Tuesday, we couldn’t get a board. We were able to make them miss, but we couldn’t get the rebound.”

Woodruff led Rapides against Fairview, scoring a game-high 20 points. But he wasn’t the only player that aided in the victory. The Mustangs also had six other players score, three in double-figures. Birdlong followed with 14 points and 10 rebounds while Johnson had 12 points and Keldrick Timothy had 11.

“They have some weapons out there,” said Briley of Rapides’ depth. “They have a good post player on the inside and they have guards that can light it up It’s going to be tough. There is no reason to think they we are going to go in there and win it easily. We’re going to have to play.”

Despite being outmanned and undersized, as they were in nearly every game they played this year, Midland’s game plan will remain the same.

“Just like all year, our defense is the key,” said Briley. “They (Rapides) know what we’re going to try and do. It’s no secret. We’re going to try to bother them and harass them and do what we’ve done all year.

“Since the playoffs have started, our kids have responded really well. This is a great opportunity and that’s the way we look at it. You want to enjoy it and play your hardest so you have the best chance to be successful. We’re going to be ready and we’re going to leave it all on the floor.”

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