Wildcats come home winners

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 21, 2001


Near the end of his postgame press conference after the Class 3A championship game Friday night, St. James head coach Lionel Ezidore mentioned that Rayville was going on with the state championship trophy while his team was going home with the runner-up trophy. But the way St. James was going home with that trophy made the Wildcats winners as well. Rayville took the title with an 82-59 victory in a game that was probably decided by halftime. But that was through more about what Rayville did than about what St. James didn’t do. True, Ezidore and the Wildcats would admit that they did not play their best game of the season. But Rayville played a nearly flawless one on both sides of the court. This was a team that shot 50 percent from the floor while committing just nine turnovers. On the defensive end, the Hornets held the Wildcats to 42 percent field goal shooting while forcing 12 turnovers. In short, Rayville had one of those dream nights in a game that every high school player dreams of playing in. But St. James had a dream season as well, one few would have expected last October. After all, the Wildcats had lost three of its four leading scorers from its state championship team of the year before, including all-state guard Corey Webster. Seniors Stevenson Jones and Justin Aubert were the only returning players who averaged eight points a game last year. But the Wildcats consistently had players step up for them throughout the season. At least five times during the year, the team had five players score in double figures. With a roster that had no player over 6-5, the Wildcats overcame an early loss in district play to capture its second straight district title. Tough games followed against St. Bernard in the bi-district round and Redemptorist in the regionals. The Wildcats then pulled away in the second half to defeat Port Allen in the quarterfinals after the Pelicans had rallied in the second quarter. That victory sent St. James to the Cajundome for the Top 28 Tournament for the second straight year. There, it was the Wildcats’ turn to pull a second quarter rally, coming back from a 14-point deficit thanks to a buzzer-beating, halfcourt shot by Henry Washington. St. James looked like it would take control early Friday, jumping out to an 8-2 lead. But Rayville, despite playing in the first state final in school history, kept its composure, taking the lead for good at 13-12. The Hornets led 45-31 at halftime and kept St. James from going on one of its patented runs. So for the first time in 365 days last Saturday, the Wildcats were not the defending Class 3A state champions. But that did not mean they were no longer champions.