Stan Humphries' mind wouldn’t rest following the conclusion of the 2019-2020 basketball season. A change here. A different decision there. Surely there was something the Ouachita Christian Lady Eagles head coach could have done to prevent a 53-50 loss to St. Mary’s in the 2020 Division IV State Championship Game, right?
The reality is no one will ever truly know. But that didn’t stop the ultimate competitor — a former NFL quarterback that once suited up for a start in Super Bowl XXIX — from pondering the different wrinkles that could have led to different outcomes.
Humphries and his wife, Connie, revisited the outcome over and over again the next day, as they woke up early the following morning and took a 10-plus hour drive to Arizona. That’s a lot of time in the car to talk about one particular game.
“We talked about it the entire time,” Humphries said.
That bitter ending can't change what transpired before. It was a season for the ages, especially for an OCS program that was in a rut.
Senior Emery Wirtz reflected on the state of the program last year, and even remembered gyms that occupied fans that were simply there waiting on the boys game to start.
“Our freshmen year, all they knew was OCS basketball is terrible,” Wirtz said in 2020.
OCS ripped off a 35-0 perfect record before the state title game, and just like that a stunning result in the state championship game left a hollow feeling that never truly went away.
“It’s funny because a couple kids said something about that a week or two ago,” Humphries said. “They said, ‘We thought you fell off the face of the earth.’ That’s because they didn’t hear from me for about a month. But you put all that time into something, and you just feel bad because you go undefeated and you have a bad little point in one game and lose the last one. That’s hard. That’s what we’ve stressed this year. I don’t care if we lose one, two, three, four, five or six games. We want to win the last one this year.”
Last year's championship game result has supplied plenty of drive for the Lady Eagles, but a laundry list of concerns has arisen thanks to an untimely winter storm during a pandemic. OCS has navigated a season during COVID-19 with a few bumps in a road (canceled games due to opponent’s COVID-19 issues), but like other schools across Louisiana, the Lady Eagles will enter the playoffs with minimum face time and practice time. That's not ideal.
“I’m just bored sitting around the house right now,” said Humphries during February’s uncommon winter storm. “I’ve been texting and visiting with them over the phone, but we can’t really do anything until it’s safe. The good thing is we have a veteran group. There’s nothing a team can throw out there that we haven’t possibly seen on the court. We have to rely on that. Maybe if we didn’t have as much experience I’d be a bit more concerned.”
As far as Humphries was concerned, though, the hay was in the barn. The (25-2) Lady Eagles played against teams like Liberty Magnet in Baton Rouge and scored wins against No. 3 Neville (Class 4A), No. 23 Carroll (Class 3A) and No. 3 Cedar Creek (Division IV).
“I think this year’s schedule was a lot harder than last year’s,” Humphries said. “I think our district last year had more veteran players, but you still have teams like Cedar Creek and Delhi. But we’ve played games against teams like Ruston, Neville, Carroll, Denham Springs, Scotlandville. And when we went to Baton Rouge and lost a couple games, I think that made us stronger.”
The usual veteran players performed how fans have grown accustomed to seeing. Wirtz, who was selected as a First-Team All-State performer last season, has led the Lady Eagles with 16 points per game and seven rebounds per contest. Avery Hopkins has averaged 14 points per contest while Conleigh Laseter has contributed 11 points per game. Jayden Ellerman has led OCS with six assists per game and five steals per contest.
The Lady Eagles will rely on those veteran players tonight, as No. 1 OCS begins its playoff journey against No. 16 Sacred Heart in a 6 p.m. contest at home.