Home Life-Free Minden High’s state championship run in 1958-59

Minden High’s state championship run in 1958-59

Most local sports fan recognize the fact that it has been quite a while since Minden High School won a state championship in one of the “major” sports. More than three and a half-decades have passed since the last baseball championship, next year marks forty years since the last football championship while the most recent track title came over a half-century ago. However, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the longest drought for the school. Today’s Echo of the Past will look at the Minden Crimson Tide’s state AA championship team of 1958-59.

As the 1958-59 season began, Coach Cleve Strong returned three senior starters from the previous year’s team, James Norris, Keith Lloyd and David Evans. They were joined in the starting lineup by senior Charles Madden and junior David Hruska. Top reserves were Jerry Huckaby, Galen Pratt and Jimmy Russell. Strong had already established a strong tradition at MHS, winning a state championship in 1955, led by All-American Jack Moreland. The 1956 Tide appeared headed to another title before a controversial loss at Jena in the semifinals. In the 1957-58 season, Strong’s fifth as Tide mentor, the team had gone 33-9, but finished out of the playoff race coming in third in District 1-AA behind Springhill and Bossier. With Bossier moving up to AAA, Sports Editor Cecil Hoggard of the Minden Press had high hopes for the Tide in the ’58-’59 season, writing the following prediction, “the basketball team, works together as a team, not as five individuals. This year’s team, if the players reach their expected peaks, will be ranked as one of the best squads in the recent history of MHS. The players on this season’s unit are some of the best scorers ever grouped on one team I can remember.”

The Tide opened the season playing in the Dubberly Tournament, defeating Shongaloo and Hall Summit before losing the championship game to the Doyline Panthers. Minden came back and avenged that loss to Doyline and then defeated the Panthers again in the finals of the Heflin Tournament, after beating the Dubberly Eagles and the host Heflin Hawks in the early rounds of the tournament. For some reason, the games prior to December were considered “pre-season” contests and the Tide was very successful, dropping only the single contest to Doyline in that span. The regular season officially began with Minden hosting Winnfield on December 2. The Crimson Tide won that contest easily, pouring in what was thought to be a school record 97 points in beating the Tigers 97-37, and went on to defeat Jonesboro and Ruston, running their record to 13-1 before meeting Bossier. The Bearkats defeated the Tide, 53 to 49. The loss to the AAA Bearkats notwithstanding, by December 18, the Tide had achieved a record of 15-3 and were ranked as the #1 AA team in North Louisiana. They traveled to the La Grange-American Press Invitational Tournament in Lake Charles were they defeated Marion and Kinder before losing to high-scoring Harold Strother and his Plainview teammates in the semifinals (the victory raised Plainview’s season record to 42-0). However Minden bounced back to defeat Anacoco in overtime for third place. The Tide then closed out the 1958 portion of their schedule with a record of 19-4 with a win over Fair Park.

District play began in January as the Tide destroyed Homer 94-14 and then won their own tournament with victories over Simsboro and Doyline. Easy district wins over North Caddo and St. John’s boosted the Tide’s season mark to 28-4. By the end of January, Minden had claimed championships in both the Springhill and Bossier tournaments and raised their season record to 36-4. While breezing through district play with a perfect record, the Tide were upset by Fair Park in the finals of the Indians’ tournament. Minden then turned back their first serious challenge of the district season, going on the road to beat the Springhill Lumberjacks 62-55. After a victory over Waldo, Arkansas raised the season record to 41-5 the Tide were left with one stumbling block on their district slate, a rematch with Springhill whose only district loss was to Minden. At this point, Minden was ranked 2nd in the Shreveport Times ranking of teams from North Louisiana, South Arkansas and East Texas, behind only Plainview which boasted a record of 63-3 and a victory over the Tide. When the Tide defeated Springhill 74-62 to finish the district season as undefeated 1-AA champs at 8-0 and their overall record stood at 43-5. Other than Springhill, no team in district came closer than a 33-point loss to Minden. Before opening the playoffs against Jonesboro, Minden played two games in a home-and-home matchup with Ruston.

So far, you may have noticed that this article has not mentioned much about star players or high scorers, perhaps because that was probably the most outstanding feature of this Tide team, balance and team play. For the district schedule, all five starters averaged double digit point production.  James Norris led the way with 22.2 points per game, followed by David Evans at 17.1, Keith Lloyd at 16.0,  Charles Madden at 11.1 and David Hruska at 10.5. Overall for the season, the averages stood at Norris, 16.0, Lloyd 12.8, Evans 11.2, Madden 9.7, and Hruska 7.0 Off the bench, Sherburne Sentell contributed 5.3 points and Charlie Connell 4.6 points. The balance was also evident when the All-District squad for 1-AA was announced. Norris and Lloyd made first team All-District while Madden, Evans and Hruska were named to the 2nd team.

Minden opened the playoffs hosting the Jonesboro Tigers, runners-up in district 2-AA and the visiting Tigers gave the Tide more than a good game. Minden opened up a three point lead in the first quarter of the game but Jonesboro fought back in the 2nd quarter leaving the halftime tally at Minden 26, Jonesboro 25. The visiting Tigers won the battle in the third quarter 22 to 20 and entered the 4th stanza leading the favored Tide 47-46. The Tide won the 4th quarter 14-9, led by Charles Madden who scored 17 of his 21 points during the 3rd and 4th quarters as Minden held on for a 60-56 victory, sending them on to face the Natchitoches Red Devils, champions of 3-AA who had received a first-round bye in the playoffs. For the Jonesboro game, behind Madden’s 21 points, Lloyd added 12, Hruska 10, Norris 9 and Evans 8.

On March 3, the Tide, with a season record of 45-6, hosted the defending state champion squad from Natchitoches boasting a record of 26-2. Minden vanquished the Red Devils 57 to 42 to move on to the state semi-finals. The Tide led after one quarter 7-6 and expanded the margin in the second quarter to lead at halftime, 27-20. In the third quarter Minden dominated 15 to 2, making the score after three Minden 42, Natchitoches 22. The visitors fought back winning the final quarter 20 to 15, but it was not enough to overcome the cushion Minden established through the first three quarters. As usual, a balanced scoring-attack was the Tide’s outstanding feature. Norris led the way with 16 points, but Lloyd, Evans and Madden each contributed 14 points. Hruska added five points. Perhaps the key to the game for Minden was the defensive job done by Norris and Evans who limited Natchitoches all-state player Ray Arthur to only fifteen points through three quarters. Arthur would pour in fourteen points in the fourth quarter but it was too little, too late for Natchitoches.  The victory sent Minden forward into the semifinals against Marion.

The Tide has faced Marion early in the season in the La Grange tournament, gaining an easy win, and the rematch, played at Tide Gym, proved no more of a contest. The Tide led 18-6 after one quarter and stretched that lead to 34-16 at halftime. The second half proved to be more of the same with Minden cruising to a 72 to 46 win, sending the Tide to the state finals. For the night against Marion, Minden was led in scoring by James Norris with 19 points, Madden added 18, Lloyd 14, Evans 13 and Hruska 4. The big win allowed Strong to empty his bench giving playing time to reserves, Jerry Huckaby, Galen Pratt, Jimmy Russell, Sherburne Sentell, Carroll Horn, Charles Connell and Lynn Reeves. In the state championship game, the Tide would travel to meet Covington, who defeated Minden’s 1-AA rival, Springhill 43-42 in the other semifinal contest.

On the road at Covington, the Tide handled the homestanding Lions to the tune of 60-44. Leading after one quarter by 11-10, Minden stretched that lead to 30-21 at the half. By the end of three the Minden lead stood at 42-32 and then in the fourth Minden added 18 more points to seal the victory. Again, Minden’s five starters (all except Hruska being Seniors) balanced the offensive attack. Norris led the way with 20, followed by Lloyd with 14, Madden with 12, Evans with 8 and Hruska with 6. Minden finished the season with an outstanding final record of 48-6. Norris gained All-State honors (the next season, Hruska would be named the outstanding player on the all-state team.) Thus the Tide completed another successful season, their third trip to the state finals in five years and their second state championship. It seems difficult to believe that in the sixty years since that season, Minden High has never again won the state basketball championship, we do have the Louis Dunbar led Webster Wolves championship teams to claim for our town but it has now been six decades since the Crimson Tide stood atop the state basketball ladder. Hopefully, that can change, the MHS Lady Tiders have an excellent chance to bring home a title this year and former MHS and Louisiana Tech star Rennie Bailey has the Tiders headed in the right direction. Maybe a state championship won’t remain a distant Echo of Our Past.

Webster Parish Historian John Agan’s column appears Tuesdays in the Minden Press-Herald.