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Rosepine (Louisiana) girls team kept it simple to earn repeat opportunity: Buck's Ballpark

Experienced senior class, matching other team's best efforts have been key for Lady Eagles

HAMMOND, LOUISIANA - A season removed from finally winning a state basketball title, Rosepine’s girls are on the precipice of repeating as champions. 

While the Lady Eagles were well aware that things were going to be drastically different this season, having to deal with heightened expectations as well as having the proverbial target on their backs, coach Charles Kiely just wanted to simplify their approach. 

He even pulled out one of the classic cliches in the handbook.

“We set little goals throughout the year,” Kiely said after the Lady Eagles advanced to Saturday’s Division III non-select title game after a 55-48 win against Westlake in Wednesday’s semifinals at the University Center. “So many people just start looking ahead and looking ahead. Like, literally, we look at it one game at a time.”

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Perhaps Kiely used the mantra of simply staying, well, simple during a midseason three-game losing streak.

“We lost to Southside, we lost to Hicks and Anacoco; three real good teams in a row, and I kind of felt like we lost a little identity in those three losses and then I was like, let’s just simplify this thing, so we literally went game to game; even myself included,” Kiely said. “I didn’t look ahead on film on who we were playing next week, I literally went game to game and we just went back to what we do, very simple; move the basketball and run and play defense.”

It also helped Kiely that he had the benefit of a strong senior class to lean on, especially during the tough times. Those four seniors - Addison Fruge, Kelly Norris, Kailea Blankenbaker and Nevaeh Rivera - all played vital roles in Wednesday’s win.

The four combined to score 49 of the Lady Eagles’ 55 points, with Fruge - an East Texas Baptist University signee - leading the way with 22. Norris had eight points, but was a basket away from a triple-double, as she also had 17 rebounds and 11 assists.

“The senior class I have is great leaders, and they know when to push the girls in practice and when to (say), ‘Hey, let’s fix this, Coach is going to get to that point,’ and they do a great job. … I’ve been close with a bunch of classes, but this senior class, I’m going to be like, I don’t know what I’m going to do next year, like I have no idea,” Kiely said. “It’s going to be like missing an arm, so that’s how important they are to me.”

Rosepine seniors Kelly Norris (left) and Addison Fruge, along with the Lady Eagles' head coach, Charles Kiely (middle), speak to the media following their Division III non-select semifinal win Feb. 28, 2024.

Rosepine seniors Kelly Norris (left) and Addison Fruge, along with the Lady Eagles' head coach, Charles Kiely (middle), speak to the media following their Division III non-select semifinal win Feb. 28, 2024.

One of those seniors - Blankenbaker - was singled out by her coach for the tremendous improvement she made during the course of the season.

“Kailea doesn’t get a lot of credit; she works her tail off down low and she worked her way to be able to play with pace and she’s one of my most improved players I’ve ever had,” Kiely said.

Blankenbaker was also in double figures Wednesday with 10 points, perhaps scoring the game’s biggest basket by taking a feed from Norris and swishing a baseline jumper with less than three minutes left after Westlake - after trailing by double digits most of the game - made things interesting after cutting the Lady Eagles’ lead to seven.

Then with more than a minute left and Rosepine up by eight, the Lady Eagles (28-5) kept possession by grabbing several offensive rebounds. Rivera got a put-back shot after the last offensive board in that sequence, essentially ending the Lady Rams’ final chance.

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But it goes back to the play of a pair of seniors - the backcourt duo of Fruge and Norris - who have been Lady Eagle teammates since their eighth-grade season and joined Kiely after Wednesday's game to meet up with the media.

“I’ve been playing with Addi since junior high, and we’ve been playing varsity since eighth grade, so we just have a lot of experience together, and she’s just always there no matter what,” Norris said.

Rosepine won its first state title last season with a 69-61 win against Amite for the Division III non-select championship. Those two teams will have a rematch for the title on Saturday after Amite defeated Doyle in the other semifinal, held late Wednesday night.

Fruge knew there was going to be more pressure being the defending champions, which is why she noted in Wednesday’s postgame press conference the ability to match the other team’s best effort has helped make this season just as special as the year before.

“I think probably it’s our last year playing, and everyone we play, we’re always going to get their best game, so we always have to play our hardest,” Fruge said.

“It’s very uplifting and exciting, and it’s something we’ve always wanted to do since we were in eighth grade. We accomplished it last year with our seniors, and now this is our goal our senior year and we’re slowly getting there. It’s just everything to us.”

That’s something else that has defined this season’s group of Lady Eagles, their willingness to work hard, with the seniors leading the way.

“Since eighth grade, they’ve played a lot of basketball, a lot of conditioning and a lot of running, and just their hard work paying off,” Kiely said. “I think Addi told me last year she wanted to win one for me; well this year, I want to win one for them just because of how hard they work and the whole team.”

And Kiely added just how special his senior class is, even getting a bit emotional while talking about them.

“They’ve saved my coaching career, they’ve saved my life, they’ve done a lot of things for me so they’re very special for me, so it’s hard to talk about,” he said.

He’ll get the chance to coach one more game with that group.

One game now. The Lady Eagles have taken things one game at a time, and it’s literally a one-game season now come Saturday’s title game.

Simple as that.

Photo of Rosepine senior players Kelly Norris (left) and Addison Fruge 

-- Buck Ringgold | | @SBLiveLA