No. 2 Pelicans survive scare at St. Charles

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 15, 2008


Sports Editor

With two minutes left in the third quarter on Tuesday night, it looked for all the world that St. Charles was about to pull off a season-defining victory.

The host Comets led Port Allen, the No. 2 ranked team in Class 3A, 41-29, and the St. Charles crowd was growing louder and louder with each Comet bucket.

But the Pelicans didn’t get to their lofty ranking by simply fading away when things get tough. Port Allen cut the deficit to six entering the fourth quarter, where it seized control with an opening 17-3 run. The Comets were unable to recover, and Port Allen emerged with a 59-52 victory in a District 9-3A game.

“We knew coming in that two things were to our advantage: our size, and the speed of an up-tempo game,” said Port Allen Coach Kirby Loupe. “In the first half, St. Charles had the advantage (in tempo and rebounding.)

“We had to pick up the tempo, force some turnovers, and take advantage of our athleticism.”

That came in the form of a relentless full-court press by the Pelicans (28-3, 7-0) in the second half, after a first half that saw St. Charles (16-15, 3-4) effectively slow the pace of the game and control time of possession in the half court.

“The biggest thing for us was that we stopped setting good screens,” said St. Charles Coach Jonathan Hernandez. “They did a good job pressing us, and the bottom line is that we couldn’t handle it tonight.”

At first, the Comets did. While Port Allen tried to force the tempo to their favor, St. Charles took advantage of the openings it presented on offense early in the third quarter. The Comets’ Birch Matus gave St. Charles a 31-25 lead with a basket underneath, before Port Allen’s Tyler Washington answered with a short jumper.

But the Comets answered back even louder, as a Vincent Rollo basket ignited an 8-0 run that included three straight baskets by DeMarcus Bernard that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

After a Matus layup made the score 41-29, Port Allen regrouped. It ended the quarter on an 8-2 run, including baskets by William Nelson and Jeremy Ferguson. It made the score 43-37 entering the fourth.

St. Charles had chances to extend the lead, but twice players failed to make the front end of a one-and-one at the foul line.

At the 5:08 mark, the Pelicans’ Jousha Graham hit a short basket to give Port Allen its first lead since the second quarter, 45-44. Gabe Corchiani hit a shot to give St. Charles the lead back, but it would be its last of the game. The Pelicans scored the next nine points to lead 54-46. St. Charles would get no closer than five the rest of the way.

“We let the game get away from us, and went away from what got us the big lead in the first place,” said Rollo. “We’ve just gotta learn to close these games out.”

Rollo led St. Charles with 19 points. Bernard scored 13, and Matus added seven.

Ferguson led the Pelicans with 20 points. Thomas James added 12.

A win would have secured sole possession of third place in District 9-3A for the Comets, who now travel to Plaquemine for one more crack at it.

If St. Charles loses to the Green Devils, it would then face Lutcher in a tie-breaking game for that position, with the winner perhaps in line for a wildcard playoff berth.

While Port Allen, now winner of 12 of its last 13 games, has rarely seen its back against the wall this season, the test his team received on Tuesday hardly came as a surprise to Loupe.

“We told our kids coming in, St. Charles has already played Plaquemine to the buzzer,” he said. “They’ve played Lutcher in two close games. They were within six of us the first game, and it was probably closer than that. We knew it wouldn’t be easy here.”