Lady Wildcats meet two state champs

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 30, 2004

East St. John swept in ‘Bayou Battles,’ but gets good experience for the future



KENNER – The East St. John Lady Wildcats have put together quite a run under head girls basketball coach Troy Giordano.

This year figures to be similar to past seasons, when the club has won nine consecutive district championships and always headed into post-season play.

But still seeking their first state championship, East St. John got an idea of just what it will take to get to the top echelon of girls basketball as they competed in the talent-laden “Battle on the Bayou” this past week here at the Alario Center.

The East St. John girls met the 5A defending state champion West Monroe Lady Rebels, as well as playing against the defending 4A Mississippi state champions in Hancock North Central, which is coached by the former Salmen High School coach Pam Slayton, who had made the Spartans a state power.

West Monroe is the defending 5A state champ, and is being touted as a club that could well repeat this year.

That point seemed well taken from the way the Rebels played against East St. John here on Tuesday night, as West Monroe ran away to a 60-45 win over the Wildcats.

In their other two tournament games, East St. John lost to Hancock in a very close game, 60-56, before also getting defeated by 2A powerhouse Walker, 54-40.

“The tournament showed us that we’re not ready yet,” coach Giordano said. “But it was great playing some of the best teams around and that is going to make us better down the stretch.”

In East St. John’s defense, they are still missing University of Houston point guard signee Nakita Hutchinson, along with two other top players still out with injuries.

That, combined with the pure talent of West Monroe, was too much for the Lady Cats to handle in that key showdown.

“Was it our missing players, or how good they were, or that we didn’t play our best?” Giordano responded to a question. “It was probably a little of all three. You can see that this is a tremendous team West Monroe has, so I really didn’t feel so bad about losing. I actually thought we did a pretty decent job against them.”

West Monroe does most of its damage with a variety of three-point shooters, with very little height in the middle of the lane.

Five different players hit at least one three-pointer in the game, led by red-hot shooting guard Whitney Jones, who knocked down a pair of threes and finished with 22 points.

Latisha Riley dropped in five three-pointers and finished with 19 points.

For East St. John, point guard Randi Donald was outstanding start to finish, but needed more support. She finished with 22 points and six rebounds to lead her club, but the next top scorers for the Wildcats were Keyona Nelson with seven points and Vanessa Smith with six.

“This really is the team that tells us where we need to be if we want to make a run at a state title,” Giordano said. “They have such an outstanding program that they split their team into two squads for this tournament, with their JV playing in one bracket.”

The “Battle on the Bayou” is one of the most competitive tournaments in the area each year, bringing together nearly 100 high school teams from all over, including out-of-state clubs.

East St. John struggled early in the big match against West Monroe, not able to stop Riley and Jones with their outside shooting in the first quarter. That pair combined for a trio of three-pointers and they broke into an 18-10 lead.

The tight defense of the Rebels was also difficult to handle, as they forced 19 turnovers in the game from East St. John.

The Wildcats hung within a nine point game at 24-15 with 5:20 to go in the second period, but then West Monroe ran off eight unanswered points to take charge. Donald hit a pair of threes for ESJ near the end of the half to keep it respectable, but the Wildcats never were able to raise a serious challenge in the second half.

Against Hancock, East St. John played a solid game, battling all the way as they actually led 44-41 heading into the final quarter. But the Mississippi powerhouse showed their talent by rallying for the win.

Donald had another superb game, this time scoring 26 points, while Nelson tossed in 15, then Gaynelle Brown and Crystal Fleming both scored six each.

Against Walker, the Lady Wildcats jumped to a 31-17 halftime lead and never looked back. Donald scored 13, Brown had 10, Nelson scored eight and Smith added seven for the ESJ girls.

Monday things resume on the rugged non-district schedule Giordano has lined up as the club plays at Mt. Carmel in a 7 p.m. contest.