Lady Cats prepare for district play

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 6, 2001

Michael Kiral

RESERVE – The end of December can be a dangerous one for a basketball team.
Its the holiday season and many schools are in the midst of taking exams so the concentration level is not always where it needs to be. Many teams are also coming off a tour of tournaments, often playing three or four games a week. District play is on the horizon so the danger of looking ahead is often prevalent.
It can all add up to trouble for the final pre-district games for a team as the East St. John Lady Cats nearly found out the second to last week of 2000.
The Lady Cats were coming off a home win over St. James the previous week. Prior to that was a month-long road trip that included the Hammond, Battle on the Bayou and Zachary tournaments as well as visits to St. Amant, Mount Carmel and Dominican.
This week, East St. John would again be on the road although its a short trip to Reserve neighbor Riverside Academy.
Riverside, behind a stiff defense and some sluggish play by East St. John, would be a thorn in the side of the Lady Cats early on. A technical foul against East St. John would lead to three free throws by the Lady Rebels Crystal Rome and a 6-0 lead.
East St. John finally gets on the scoreboard midway through the quarter on a pass from Kinya Lennix to Kojovana Hamilton along the left baseline.
Riverside comes right back as Heather Montz finds Amy Hymel underneath.
Raeonda Jasper answers with a 3-pointer from the right wing and after two free throws by Rome, Danielle Stemley buries one from the top of the key to make it 10-8. Jasper nails another one after a steal by Hamilton but Rome comes back with a pass to Montz to make it 14-11 at the end of the first quarter.
Rome increases the lead to 16-11 with two free throws on the Lady Rebels second possession. But East St. John uses three free throws by Erin Keller and a jumper by Lennix to tie the game at 16. Following a traveling call against Riverside, Hamilton scores on a put back to give the Lady Cats their first lead with 5:44 left in the half.
Rome ties the game again with two free throws on the next possession. Lennix hits a jumper from the left baseline to make it a 20-18 lead which Rome cuts in half with a free throw two possessions later.
East St. John misses on its next two shots before Lennix drives the left baseline to give the Lady Cats a 22-19 lead. East St. John then steps up the defensive pressure. Following a Riverside turnover, Velinda Ard scores on a put back. Jasper grabs a steal and finds Lennix for another jumper. Lennix then grabs a rebound, tossing deep to Stemley for a jumper and a 28-19 lead.
The pressure continues after a timeout. Two more turnovers lead to a free throw and a 3-pointer from the right wing by Stemley. Stemley then converts another steal into two free throws. Lennix scores off another turnover to build the lead to 36-19 at the half. Over the final four minutes of the half, the Lady cats have forced 10 turnovers and outscored the Lady Rebels, 16-0.
“Keep in position to make the next trap,” East St. John head coach Troy Giordano tells his team during the break. ” Keep the pressure on. Deny the inbounds and get the trap.”
Wendy Reames cuts the deficit to 36-22 with a 3-pointer from the right wing on the opening possession of the half. But two possessions later, Stemley converts a steal into two free throws. That would be the start of a 18-0 run by the Lady Cats. Lennix scores six points during the run. Whitnee Chatman converts a three-point play and Hamilton buries a 3-pointer from the right side to make it 54-22.
Candice Perret ends the run with a 3-pointer from the right side. But Jasper answers with a 3-pointer from the left wing to make it 57-25 heading into the fourth quarter. Hamilton scores eight points and Chatman six in the final quarter as the Lady Cats pull away to a 79-45 victory.

“We came out flat and Riverside came out and brought it to us early,” Giordano said. “We had to go to a pressure defense in order to get into the flow of the game. Once we did that, the kids responded to the pressure and stepped up. But we cant afford to come out flat like that when district starts.”

Final preparations

Three days later, East St. John is back in the Riverside gym for the Lady Rebels Classic. The Lady Cats are making their fifth straight appearance in the Classic, having won it previously in 1997 and 1999. The tournament will be the final tuneup for the team before District 7-5A play begins.
East St. John receives a bye in the first round and takes on Vandebilt Catholic, a 47-43 winner over Welsh, in the semifinals. Kinya Lennix starts out hot in the first half, scoring 17 as the Lady Cats take a 37-30 lead into halftime.
Lennix cools down a bit in the second half as the Lady Terriers cut the deficit to 50-45 at the end of the third quarter. But the Lady Cats close out the game on a 16-8 run to take a 66-53 victory. Lennix finishes with a game-high 21 points. Danielle Stemley adds 14 points and Erin Keller 11.
The victory sets up a rematch with Riverside in the championship game.
Riverside opened the tournament with a 57-26 victory over rival St. Charles Catholic. The Lady Rebels then defeated Albany, 54-48, as Crystal Rome scored 33 points to advance to the title game.
As in the game earlier in the week, Riverside jumps out to a 7-4 lead on a 3- pointer and a jumper by Rome. East St. John answers with a jumper by Stemley and a put back by Lennix to take an 8-7 lead.
Lennix then heats up as her jumper rolls in two possessions later. On the other end, she blocks a shot which Courtney Drayton takes and throws deep to Kojovana Hamilton. Lennix comes back with another jumper from the corner, making it 14-7.
Rome converts a three-point play off a drive down the lane but Lennix answers with a jumper from the left corner to give the Lady Cats a 16-10 lead at the end of the first quarter. Lennix finishes the quarter with 12 of her teams points. East St. John continues to roll as the second quarter opens. Drayton scores on a put back and Lennix takes a steal in for a 20-10 lead. A 3-pointer by Stemley builds the lead to 24-12.
Lennix then takes over again, burying jumpers on three straight possessions.
A jumper by Hamilton makes it 32-14 with 3:15 left in the half. Lennix pops in two more jumpers and Erin Keller and Stemley score on drives to make it 42-16 at the half.
“Keep playing the defense you have been playing,” East St. John implores in the locker room. “That is no way they can come back if you keep playing the defense you have been playing.”
Lennix heats up again midway through the third quarter, scoring six unanswered points on two free throws and two jumpers. She now has 31 points for the game. Ashley Porter finishes the scoring in the quarter, taking a steal by Raeonda Jasper in for a 61-20 lead.
Giordano leaves Lennix in as the fourth quarter opens, trying to get her the school record that currently stands at 42 points. Lennix gets her 33rd point on a jumper early in the quarter. But those would be her last points and Giordano takes her out with five minutes left to play. The final score is 77- 30.
Lennix is named the tournaments MVP after scoring 54 points in two games.
Stemley joins her on the all-tournament team after scoring seven points. Jasper and Velinda Ard also score seven points.
“Thats two tournaments weve won, we had third in another and finished in the final four in a big one,” Giordano tells his team in the locker room after the game. “I think we are ready for district. It starts Wednesday. Have a happy holiday. Be careful. Dont eat too much. If you eat too much, we will come back running. We play South Terrebonne and Hahnville next week. The following week, we come back against Destrehan. Those are must-win games. We have to take it to another level.”
Lennix for one believes the team is ready. She points to the fact that the Lady Cats are picked to finish second in the district as a source of inspiration.
“I think we are jelling at the right time,” Lennix said. “The freshman are maturing and Velinda is really improving. We are the district champs and we are not getting any respect. We have to come out and prove it to everybody again.”
That chance starts the following Wednesday District 7-5A play opens at South Terrebonne.