As if having two teams in the state championship game wasn't enough, the strength of the District 3-2A basketball league was evident when its two bottom teams - Madison Parish and Rayville - were awarded the No. 16 and 17 seeds in the state playoff bracket.
Northeast Louisiana is known as a high school football hotbed and rightfully so. But the basketball is pretty good, too, especially in Class 3A.
Top to bottom, District 2 is easily the best 3A conference in the state and among the tops for all classifications.
Not only did the district send two teams to the state championship game, neither team was the conference champ. Carroll, which finished third in the league standings, rallied from a 13-point third quarter deficit to edge district runner-up Farmerville 68-64 in the finals.
As a testament to the district's strength, the Bulldogs were the No. 4 seed in the playoff bracket despite their third-place finish in 2-3A. Bossier was No. 1, followed by District 2-3A champ Richwood and Farmerville.
Carroll beat Bossier in its own backyard in a 53-51 triple overtime barnburner in the semifinals at the CenturyLink Center in Shreveport to reach the championship game.
Richwood, meanwhile, lost to No. 23 seed Baton Rouge Parkview Baptist 66-61 in the quarterfinals. Farmerville finally ended Parkview's Cinderalla run with a hard-fought 58-56 homecourt victory in the semis.
Carroll arch-nemesis this season, Richwood swept the season series from the Bulldogs, winning all four games by a total of seven points.
It's not like District 2-3A only recently established itself as a basketball power. When Carroll claimed its second state title in three years Thursday night, it marked the third straight season that a league member had taken home the championship trophy and the sixth time in the past nine years.
In addition to Carroll's 2011 and 2013 championships, coach Terry Martin's Richwood Rams won state in 2005, 2009 and 2012 and coach Dale Zimmerman's Wossman Wildcats (who now compete in 2-4A) won it all in 2008.
Of course, Richwood and Carroll are both steeped in basketball tradition.
What a job Johnny Simmons has done at Farmerville. Though highly-respected among his coaching peers, the former Louisiana Tech assistant probably doesn't get the recognition he deserves while toiling away from the limelight in Union Parish. That should change after Simmons took the Farmers to the finals in only their second year in Class 3A.
As disappointed as Simmons had to be at the time, he didn't show it during the postgame press conference. Instead, he found solace in the Farmers' rapid rise in the ultra-competitive district.
“This is our second year in the best 3A district in the state of Louisiana,” Simmons said in the postgame press conference. “And look where we are.”
Perhaps the most amazing proof of District 2-3A's muscle is at the bottom. Madison Parish and Rayville were both 1-7 in district play, with both teams winning at home in the head-to-head series.
There would be a rubber match. In spite of their less-than-stellar district records, Madison and Rayville, earned the No. 16 and No. 17 seeds, respectively, in the playoff bracket. Rayville bested the Jaguars 56-47 at Tallulah in the first round, before bowing to top-seeded Bossier at home, 58-42, in regional play.
District 3-2A's success wasn't limited to the boys division this season as Rayville's girls captured the state title. The Lady Hornets destroyed Baker 71-38 in the girls finals Thursday night prior to the Carroll-Farmerville boys game.
Most of Rayville's fans stuck around for Thursday night's finale. Half of Union Parish showed up as well. Carroll's loyal fan base — many wearing bright yellow shirts — made the short drive to the ULM campus.
Attendance for Thursday's second session was announced at 8,299 and most were on hand for the Class 3A boys finals. In fact, it may have been the biggest crowd to ever witness a basketball game at Fant-Ewing Coliseum. According the ULM basketball media guide, the school drew its largest crowd in 1979 when 8,044 fans turned out to watch former Bastrop High superstar and future NBA All-Star Calvin Natt lead the then-Northeast Louisiana University Indians to a 78-75 overtime victory over Louisiana Tech.
Needless to say, the atmosphere for the Carroll-Farmerville game was electric. Down on the floor, it was almost impossible to carry on a conversation.
“I don't think we've ever had a crowd quite this size and quite this enthusiastic,” said Carroll coach Jesse Burnette, a former ULM player and assistant coach.
Added Simmons: “The crowd was unbelievable. That says a lot about District 2-3A.”
There were a lot of good things to say about District 2-3A Thursday night. Simply put, it was a glorious night for a proud basketball district.