Wildcats clinch district crown behind fourth quarter surge, topple Bruins
Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 11, 2012
By RYAN ARENA
RESERVE — East St. John players walked off of their home court with pride after clinching the District 8-5A championship Tuesday night with a 69-53 victory over Bonnabel.
But there was no raucous celebration as in years past.
“Honestly, we’ve been district champions before,” said East St. John’s Chester Victor Jr., who led the Wildcats with 17 points.
“But we have a bigger goal. Just like we just said in the locker room … celebrate for tonight, but we get back in the gym and work tomorrow.”
Indeed, the Wildcats, ranked sixth in the Louisiana Sports Writers Association poll, looked the part of state championship contenders in a dominating fourth quarter effort that saw ESJ extend its three-point lead to 16 at night’s end.
Bonnabel had scored consecutive baskets at the end of the third quarter to cut a seven point ESJ lead to three.
But a flurry of points to begin the fourth quarter put the Bruins back on their heels. First, Elex Carter scored on a turnaround jumper on the block. Then Joseph Williams scored to make it 51-44. Finally, Carter scored again in transition off of a putback; with 7:10 left to play, ESJ led 53-44 after scoring six points in just 50 seconds.
Montel James provided an answer to halt the run, scoring and drawing a foul at the other end for a 3-point play, making it 53-47.
Bonnabel had a chance to cut it to three soon after, but Sam Stirgus’ 3-point attempt — Stirgus, actually, had hit one 3 from absurdly deep in the first half — rimmed out, resulting in a audible exhale from fans of both teams.
Carter tacked on two more free throws, then Rashad Green scored on a layup to make it a 10 point game.
Victor then canned two free throws to push it to 12.
“It comes down to tempo. In the fourth quarter, we pick it up a notch,” said Victor. “We get hyped off of our defense, Elex blocking shots, the steals … we feed off all of that.”
ESJ led 60-51 with 1:40 remaining when another Stirgus 3 fell no good; ESJ scored on the ensuing break on a Green layup, effectively ending things.
“Our depth definitely played into things tonight,” said ESJ coach Yussef Jasmine. “When they play seven and you play 10, it helps. And you just want to keep the pressure on them.”
Four ESJ players scored in double figures, including Victor’s 17: Williams had 14, Carter 12 and Patrick Washington 11.
For Bonnabel, James scored 18 and Stirgus 12.
Bonnabel entered alone in second place in 8-5A, just one game behind ESJ in the standings; for the Bruins, it was a chance to perhaps earn a split championship.
But there will be no sharing for the Wildcats this year.
“That’s when you have to really show who wants it the most, when both teams have that incentive,” said Jasmine.
“I’m very proud of our team and of my staff. Three district championships in four years is big. At the same time, we know we’ve got an eye on bigger things.”