Lady Cats begin tests of district play

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 13, 2001


(Editor’s Note: This is the seventh installment in the East St. John Lady Cats basketball diary, a special project of L’Observateur.) RESERVE – A basketball schedule is a little like taking tests in school. There are a number of quizzes throughout the semester, ones you do want to do good on because they do have an impact on your grades. They also can help in preparing for the big tests – the midterms and finals that will determine the end result. Non-district games are the quizzes in basketball, preparing a team before the true tests come. District games are the midterms. The East St. John Lady Cats open the testing season while their fellow classmates are on holiday break, traveling to South Terrebonne for the District 7-5A opener. At stake is the first defense of the team’s four straight district titles. East St. John breezes through the first exam, coming away with a 50-22 victory. Team captains Danielle Stemley and Kinya Lennix play only two minutes before being taken out. The Lady Cats lead 11-8 at the end of the first quarter, 20-14 at the half and 28-20 through three before breaking the game open with a 22-2 run in the fourth quarter. Freshman Kojavona Hamilton leads the way with 22 points. Junior Courtney Drayton adds another 11. The next test gets harder as East St. John returns home to play River Parish rival Hahnville. The Lady Tigers were the district runners-up two years ago and placed third in 1999 and have one of the best players in the district in Toyelle Rickson. It is indeed a tough test as East St. John leads by only six heading into the final seconds of the half. But then Raeonda Jasper sinks a 3-pointer, steals the inbounds and knocks in a layup, giving the Lady Cats a 34-23 lead at the half. Jasper’s play sparks East St. John in the second half as the Lady Cats outscore the Lady Tigers 22-16 in the third quarter and 31-18 in the fourth. The final is 87-57. Five East St. John players score in double figures, led by Hamilton with 18. Lennix scores 15, Velinda Ard 12 and Stemley and Erin Keller 10 apiece. Rickson finishes with 17 for Hahnville. “That was our first test in district,” East St. John head coach Troy Giordano says. “We played our A’ game. We were ready to play. We played some good defense. We pressed the whole game.” East St. John gets a bit of a breather the following Tuesday at Thibodaux. The game is over early as the Lady Cats jump out to a 30-1 first quarter and lead 55-9 at halftime. The junior varsity takes over in the second half and cruises to an 86-12 victory. Every player on the roster scores, led by Lennix and Stemley with 16 points apiece. Hamilton adds 11 points and Drayton and Lacrisha Walker nine apiece. The victory improves East St. John to 18-3 overall and 3-0 in District 7-5A play. One of the biggest reasons for that success has been the recent play of Hamilton who has averaged 17 points in district and is one of the team’s top two rebounders. “Hamilton is stepping up,” Giordano says. “She goes to the boards strong for a guard. She gets a lot of her points on offensive rebounds and that’s helping us.” Hamilton and the rest of the team will need to continue stepping up. But the biggest test is yet to come – district favorite Destrehan at home on Friday.

The Big One

East St. John is taking out all the stops as Destrehan comes to town tonight. The gym is steadily filling up with the East St. John band in attendance. The game promises to be a battle. Destrehan enters the game with an 18-5 record overall and a 2-0 mark in District 7-5A and are ranked in the top 10 in the metro area. Destrehan has been picked to win the district title and the winner of this contest will have a leg up in the race for it. Just before warmups, the Lady Cats learn that one of Destrehan’s best post players, Ashley Sentimore, is out with an illness. But head coach Troy Giordano warns the team that it still has to come out and play its game. “I should not have to tell you anything to motivate you for this game,” Giordano says in the squad room before the game. “You wouldn’t let anybody come into your school and take anything, would you?” “No!,” comes the replay from the whole team. “You wouldn’t let them come into your house and take anything?” “No!,” comes the answer again. “That’s what they are trying to do. Take your title. You have to step up with fire. Give them 32 minutes of hell. Bring the fire from the get-go.” But it’s immediately apparent the fire is not there when the team hits the floor for the tip-off. Destrehan’s Quinina Sinceno scores on the opening possession and Joevone Markey adds a layup for a 4-0 lead. East St. John does not score until the 5:42 mark on a jumper by Danielle Stemley. Destrehan’s inside game continues to dominate as both Markey and Sinceno score underneath for a 10-6 lead. East St. John manages to cut the deficit to one at the end of the quarter behind a 3-pointer by Erin Keller and a put back by Velinda Ard. East St. John goes ahead for the first time on a drive by Kinya Lennix with 7:04 left in the half. The teams continue to trade baskets with Destrehan taking a 20-17 lead on a put back by markey. Keller ties the game on the following possession with a 3-pointer from the right wing. With time running down, Stemley grabs a rebound and drops a pass to Kojavona Hamilton underneath, giving the Lady Cats a 24-22 halftime lead. Giordano is not happy as the team files back into the squad room. “You are playing their game because you won’t play defense,” Giordano tells the club. “You are walking the ball up and allowing them to walk it up. You won’t win the game if you don’t pick the defense up. Get in their face. Deny every pass. Hustle back down and go to the defense you have been practicing.” The Lady Cats come charging out, going on an 12-4 run to open the second half. Three-pointers by Keller and Stemley on consecutive possessions build the lead to 36-26 with five minutes left in the third quarter. Destrehan comes charging right back. A 3-pointer by Iesha Jenkins and a drive by Markey cuts the deficit to 39-36. Raeonda Jasper answers with a 3-pointer from the left wing and Lennix hits two free throws, giving the Lady Cats a 44-36 lead with 2:03 remaining. But Destrehan is not through yet, scoring the final six points of the quarter. Markey banks in a shot in the final seconds, making it a 44-42 game going into the final eight minutes. East St. John responds with another run to start the fourth quarter, scoring the first nine points. Lennix scores seven points on three jumpers and a free throw, building the lead to nine with 5:05 left. Courtney Drayton adds a layup off a pass by Keller, making it 53-42. Destrehan pulls to within 56-51 on a 3-pointer by Meagan Stock with 16 seconds left. But the comeback falls short as Stemley and Lennix hit free throws in the final 11 seconds for a 58-51 victory. The win is East St. John’s 52nd straight at home and improves the team to 19-3 overall and 4-0 in district. But neither Giordano nor the team is impressed with it. “You didn’t bring your A’ game tonight,” Giordano says in a quiet squad room. “You saved yourself by doing just enough to get by. “The good news is we slipped by and got a one-game lead on Destrehan. The bad news is, they are not going to lose again. You have to go undefeated. You better be ready for Central Lafourche Tuesday.” Giordano then asks the team who thought they had played their best game that night. Nobody raises their hand. “We have to step it up,” Giordano says softly as the team gathers together. “We have to improve on tonight.” The chance for that improvement begins Tuesday as the Lady Cats travel down the bayou to Central Lafourche.