Local games bring extra excitement to week

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 24, 2001


In his exceptional book on the Atlantic Coast Conference, “A March to Madness,” John Feinstein mentions that the dog days of college basketball occur in February. The same can be said for high school teams. Teams have been playing or practicing since September and can’t wait for the playoffs to begin. The same is true for sportswriters. By now, after watching games two or three days a week, you have seen just about everything. Alley-oop dunks and bounce passes from midcourt? Seen them. Comebacks? Been there, done that. And then comes a week like this past one. As my colleague at The Times Picayune, Jim Rapier, said during second half of the terrific East St. John-Warren Easton regional playoff game Monday night, this is why we are in this business. The largest lead of that night was six points as the teams took turns trading baskets. Easton would take a 24-22 lead into halftime on a drive by Brittany Battiste in the final seconds. A 3-pointer by Tracie Johnson early in the third quarter gave the Lady Eagles their biggest lead at 28-24. East St. John rallied to take the lead at 29-28 on a jumper by Kinya Lennix and led 39-34 going into the fourth quarter as Kojavona Hamilton took an inbounds pass and drove the length of the court in the final 6.2 seconds. A jumper by Lennix gave the Lady Cats a 41-35 lead early in the final quarter. Easton came back to whittle the lead back down to two on a free throw by Ronalda Toliver. Velinda Ard came up with a clutch rebound and free throw to build the lead back to six with 2:52 left. Two free throws by Johnson cut the lead back down to two. Danielle Stemley chased down the ensuing inbounds and found Hamilton underneath to build the lead to four. With under 30 seconds left to play and the lead still four, Chantell Dunn saved a long inbounds pass from going out and found Arielle Bodden for a 3-pointer that made it 49-48 with 23.3 seconds left. After Stemley made the first of two free throws on the ensuing possession, Lennix hustled in for the rebound and found Erin Keller who was eventually fouled. Keller made one of two fouls shots for a 51-48 lead with 13.4 seconds left. Easton had one last chance but Toliver’s shot from inside the 3-point line fell short with Courtney Drayton grabbing the rebound. Drayton then went to the line and sunk both free throws to preserve the 53-48 win. For those that missed that classic there was a repeat four days later as East St. John traveled to East Ascension in the quarterfinals. Again the game was close throughout. The Lady Cats took an 11-point lead midway through the second quarter but the Lady Spartans quickly rallied to cut the deficit to six at the break. The second half would be a seesaw affair. East Ascension tied the game at 38 on a 3-pointer by Nateisha Silby with 2:53 left in the third quarter. Hamilton answered for the Lady Cats with a drive but Joy McMillen came back with a jumper to tie the game at 42 heading into the fourth quarter. The Lady Spartans took the lead on a drive by Valencia LeBlanc on the opening possession of the fourth quarter. Then the Lady Cat seniors took over. Ard came up with two clutch put backs to put her team up midway through the quarter. After East Ascension regained the lead, Lennix and Stemley hit jump shots to put East St. John ahead, 52-49, with 1:11 left. Then when the Lady Spartans pulled to within one, Stemley and Lennix combined to go 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the final 28 seconds, preserving the win and sending East St. John to its first Sweet 16. Two classics in four days that showed that you don’t have to wait until March Madness to see drama.