Tournaments test Lady Cats

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2000

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / November 29, 2000

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in the East St. John Lady Catsbasketball season diary, a special project of L’Observateur.

RESERVE – As the stores begin holding holiday sales and the first Christmas decorations start appearing, it’s tournament time in high school basketball.

One day after defeating Carver to open the 2000-01 season and three days after competing in the Hammond Jamboree, the East St. John Lady Cats areheading back up Interstate 55 for the Hammond Tournament. The Lady Catshave competed in this tournament for the past five years but have yet to win it.

East St. John is eyeing it’s opponent Wednesday night – Loranger – a teamthat it had rallied from 11 points behind in the final minute, five seconds to tie in the jamboree that previous Saturday. But first, the Lady Catshave to get by Independence.

Despite playing without two starters and a key reserve, the Lady Cats have little trouble on this night, winning 57-39. Erin Keller leads the waywith 14 points. Lacrisha Walker tosses in nine points while KojavonaHamilton scores nine and Ashley Porter eight.

But East St. John head coach Troy Giordano knows that will not be thecase the next night. Loranger also wins its game, setting up a rematch.”We knew we had a war the next night,” Giordano said.

It would indeed be a battle. Both teams get into foul trouble early.Loranger takes the early advantage, going up 40-28 at halftime. East St.John comes out the lockerroom after halftime smoking, out-scoring the Wolves 23-9 in the third quarter to take a 51-49 lead.

The Lady Cats maintains a four-point lead heading into the final minute before Loranger cuts the deficit to two. The Wolves get the ball back andhave a chance to tie the game but miss. East St. John gets the rebound butis called for traveling. Loranger puts up a 3-pointerto win but has it bounce off the rim. The put back goes out-of-bounds withone second left. Danielle Stemley grabs the inbounds from CourtneyDrayton and runs out the clock, preserving the 66-64 victory.

“It was a typical fight to the end,” Giordano said. “Both teams were good.They were shooting good and we were playing well. It was kind of like aplayoff atmosphere.”Velinda Ard leads the effort for the Lady Cats with 15 points. Hamiltonand Stemley both score 12 while Kinya Lennix adds 11.

The victory sends East St. John into the championship game against Amite.The Lady Cats have never defeated the Lady Warriors in the regular season and have lost to them twice in this tournament’s championship game.

But East St. John has two things going for it this time around. The LadyCats defeated Amite twice during the Southeastern Louisiana University camp this summer, the first after trailing by seven with a minute to play, the second time in the camp’s championship game in double overtime. Andon this night, the Lady Warriors will be without their leading scorer, Dana Noto.

It would be tight throughout the first half. The teams are tied at 10 afterthe first quarter and at 22 at the half. But the Lady Cats use a pressuredefense to pull away in the second quarter, out-scoring Amite 17-5 in the third quarter and 23-7 in the fourth for a 62-34 victory.

Lennix, who leads the Lady Ctas with 16 points, takes the championship trophy home with her after the game. Hamilton adds 14 points and Kellerand Ard 10 points apiece. Ard and Stemley are both selected to the all-tournament team.

“We knew they were good,” Giordano said of Amite. “The kids were lookingforward to playing them. We were coming off a high the night before(beating Loranger) and the kids were fired up. We went into the game andjust did it.”The players leave the Hammond gym on a high. But they know they willhave to come back to earth quickly. Three days later, they will be back onthe road to play in the Battle on the Bayou in the Alario Center in Westwego.

Dominating D

The Battle on the Bayou is one of the most highly-regarded tournaments in the state. With 37 teams competing, including many of the top programs inthe state, it’s a place where coaches can guage just how good their own teams are. It’s also a place to see and been seen with college recruitersamong the flocks of fans that attend the games over the four days.

East St. John knows all about the competition involved in this tournament.In 1999, the Lady Cats upset St. Mary’s before falling to O.P. Walker. Theroad is not any easier this year, not with the Lady Cats competing in Pool D of the Gold Division against the likes of Bonnabel, Istrouma and Mount Carmel.

But the Lady Cats have a bit of confidence going in. They have won sixstraight games to open the season, including a victory in the Hammond Tournament. That win propelled the team into the Battle on the Bayouwhere they defeated Istrouma, 56-48, in the opening game behind 16 points by Kinya Lennix and 13 points by Danielle Stemley. The next night,the Lady Cats defeat Bonnabel, 58-45, as Lennix scores 17 and Erin Keller 16.

Those wins leave only a victory against Mount Carmel between them and a berth in the tournament’s final four. East St. John head coach TroyGiordano quickly spells out that fact as he ushers the team into its lockerroom.

“I’m not even going to get started on the scenarios if you lose because you are not going to lose,” Giordano says. “Win and you are in the final four.Our mission is to win this game.”It’s not going to be an easy feat. Mount Carmel is traditionally one of thetop programs in the New Orleans area. This season, the Cubs are beingcoached by Mary Marino, a former prep star with Ridgewood who led the Eagles to the Class 2A state championship in March.

“They are a very discipline team,” Giordano tells his squad. “Passing,cutting, slashing, you have to be ready for that. If you don’t communicate,they will come out here and blow you out. Post players have to get the ballfor us. You need to hit the boards. Get the rebound and run. Their weaknessis getting back on defense. Come out focused and ready to play. You play ontheir court in two weeks so send them a message now.”East St. John jumps out to a 3-2 lead with 5:25 left on a jumper from theleft side by Stemley. Mount Carmel gets on the scoreboard with 4:15 leftin the quarter on a jumper from the free throw line by Bryce Marshall.

Keller answers with a 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 6-2 with 2:21 remaining. But Crystal Clark finds Maria Rodriguez driving downthe right baseline to cut the deficit to one heading into the second quarter.

Mount Carmel quickly takes the lead as the second quarter opens as Jenni George buries a jumper from the left side. Keller then takes over for theLady Cats two possessions later, burying a 3-pointer from the left side to make it 9-7 with 6:35 left.

Keller then grabs a steal, gets the ball back from Courtney Drayton and is fouled going in for a layup, making one of two free throws. After passinginside to Drayton, Keller takes another steal in, making it 14-7 and forcing the Cubs to use a timeout with 5:16 left in the half. A three-pointplay by Keller and a jumper in the lane builds the lead to 19-7 at the half.

“Offensively, we have to stop shooting long shots,” Giordano tells his team in the lockerroom. “Go to the goal on these people. Defensively, keepthe heat on. Keep it going. You control your own destiny. Play ball. Justplay ball.”The Lady Cats do just that. A put back by Kojavona Hamilton makes it 28-11 with four minutes to go in the third quarter. Mount Carmel would get nocloser than 15 after that. Toward the end of the quarter, Stemley grabs asteal, passes to Keller who tosses it back to her for a 3-pointer from the left side. Keller then grabs a defensive rebound and finds Stemley downcourt for a layup, making it 35-15 at the end of the third quarter.

East St. John doesn’t let up. A3-pointer from the right side by RaeondaJasper makes it 42-20 with 4:10 left. Giordano sends in his reserves inthe final minutes as the Lady Cats cruise to a 48-29 victory.

“I’m very proud of the performance I saw tonight,” Giordano tells his team afterwards. “You took one of the top five teams in the area and shut themdown. You held a team that can shoot thee three and move the basketball. “There are only four teams left and you are one of them. You are 7-0 andyou should be proud of that. You beat some real good teams in that streak.You showed that you can play with anybody. Tomorrow you can show thatyou are a final four team. I’m very proud of your performance. Thedefensive performance was unbelievable.”But Giordano knows that as unbelievable as the defensive performance was, it has to be even better the next day. The Lady Cats have made it tothe final four of the Battle on the Bayou. Their next opponent is one whohas made it a habit of making it to the final four of the state tournament – Dominican.

Back to Earth

East St. John head coach Troy Giordano quickly realizes this may not bethe Lady Cats’ day against Dominican in the semifinals of the Battle on the Bayou. He has forgotten his lucky tie and for the first time in his career,he will not wear one during a game.

“I don’t need to tell you how good of a shooting team they are,” Giordano tells the team in the lockerroom. “They are better than Mount Carmel. Youcannot let their post players post you up. You have to front them. If you letthem post you up, they will kill you.

“Everybody has to talk like you did yesterday. Don’t get caught upunderneath and let them have a four-on-one. They get the ball up quickly.Get back on defense and play a solid halfcourt game and we will have a good chance.

“Are you ready? Do you have your ‘A’ game? They are a smart basketball team. We have to play smart.”But Dominican quickly shows why its regarded as one of the top teams in the metro area. A 3-pointer from the left corner by Stephanie Hill and apass from Rachel Truax to Shenique Harris inside makes it 7-0 with 4:59 left.

The lead grows to 11 before East St. John gets on the scoreboard on athree-point play by Kojavona Hamilton with 3:01 left. But this time, it’sDominican that does not let upas Gina Palermo finds Jessica Helgeson inside to make it 17-6 at the end of the first quarter.

Dominican goes ahead 28-11 on a pass from Ashlee Benoit to Truax inside.

East St. John tries to come back, pulling to within 31-18 on a 3-pointer byKeller and a put back by Hamilton. But with the clock ticking down, Harrisgrabs a rebound and tosses to Joelle Bordelon at midcourt. Bordelon findsHelgeson driving in at the buzzer, making it 33-18 at the half.

“So far, you have been hanging your heads and pouting and not playing your game,” Giordano tells the team in the lockerroom. “You are going to haveto come from behind this season and you know how to do it. You did itagainst Loranger.

“You have to meet fire with fire. You have to stay focused. Nobody is infoul trouble right now so you can be as aggressive as you want. You onlyhave to get the lead down to 10 by the start of the fourth quarter to give yourself a chance to win it. That means we’re down by five right now.”But the Lady Cats can get no closer than 13 in the third quarter, that coming on a drive by Lennix. A 3-pointer from the left corner by Bordelonmakes it 47-22 before a jumper by Lennix cuts the deficit to 47-24 going into the fourth quarter. The final ends up being 65-38.”Did you play good tonight,” Giordano asks his team afterward. All theplayers respond no. “I don’t mind losing to them. We are going to losegames. What I do mind if when you quit. You have to go down fighting. Youdidn’t give up against Loranger and you didn’t give up against Istrouma. Yougave up today. They are going to be in the final four this year. The questionis, will we be there? Right now, no. We have to step up. We have to comeready to play.”After a pause, Giordano tells the team to put the loss aside.

“You had a good tournament. You came within one game of being ontelevision tonight. Losing is not a negative. You shook their hands withclass. You did everything right. Just don’t give up again. You lost one game.Throw it out. You had a good tournament. Keep that. Keep the positives.Seven and one is just starting. We have a long way to go. It’s a longseason.”After playing eight games in 10 games, the Lady Cats will finally have a break for the holidays. Then the grind starts up again at Grace King,followed by the Zachary Tournament.

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