Rams two wins away from achieving dream

Published 1:45 pm Friday, March 2, 2012



RESERVE — When a coach enters a season guiding a roster that boasts no seniors upon it, as West St. John’s Lester Smith did, it’s not hard to cut him some slack. And a roster that relies heavily upon eighth and ninth graders is just more reinforcement for anyone that expects a rebuilding season.

But how about a run to the Top 28?

Really, none of this comes completely as a shock to Smith, who will guide West St. John today in the first state semifinal game in the history of its girls basketball program. The Rams will face Tensas (31-1) at 2:45 p.m. today in Monroe.

Smith knew that as young as this roster was, it would be led by a returning All-State guard in junior Jaylyn Gordon, one of the state’s most complete players. He also knew that her bloodlines would extend further in his backcourt this season in the form of exceptionally talented eighth-grader Maya Trench, Gordon’s cousin.

But what Smith couldn’t have known was just how good these Rams would be: a team that would shatter the school’s record for consecutive wins with 19 (and counting); a team that would be undefeated in district play, a perfect 10-0; and a team that now sits at 26-4, by far the best mark in school history.

Smith smiled as he spoke about his young, yet so accomplished team, as it shot around at Regala Park in Reserve; he brought the team there to get used to shooting in a more wide open setting, as it will be faced with in Monroe.

“We lost four games this year, and it easily could have been two,” he said, noting an overtime loss to Xavier Prep and a loss to a St. Mary’s team the Rams’ had beaten already. “It’s just too bad this game couldn’t have been in Hammond, with the St. James girls. We might have broken the attendance record.”

That much might not be an exaggeration. The Rams are coming off of the biggest win in the history of the program, a 69-62 win at top-seeded Central Catholic. In that game, the sides were almost split in terms of fan support despite the hour-plus long commute.

“This community has been behind us 100 percent,” said Smith. “East bank and the Westbank. It’s meant a lot to all of us.”

 West St. John toppled the top-ranked Eagles behind Gordon and some airtight defense, the former scoring 32 while hitting six 3-pointers, the latter holding Central Catholic to just two fourth quarter field goals.

“We talked about how bad we wanted this,” said Trench. “And we just went after it.”

Gordon said that she sees no reason why the Rams can’t finish the job, starting today in Monroe.

“We basically have everything,” she said. “We’ve got four or five good post players. We’ve got four or five good guards. Everyone on this team works hard because everyone wants what’s right there in front of us.”

Gordon is scoring 20.1 this season, while Trench comes in right behind her at 15.5. The two have played together since middle school, and are equally adept at attacking the basket and shooting from the outside — witness Gordon’s five 3-pointer first half performance against Central Catholic, and how she got into the lane with ease for the rest of the game for reference.

“She’s made me a better player,” said Trench. “She pushes me to attack the goal, to do my best. When I’m down, she picks me up.”

“Before the season, they were in the stadium, running, lifting, working to get better,” said Smith.

But the Rams’ success hardly begins and ends with their two leading scorers. To watch a Rams’ game is to see everyone involved in the offensive flow, and as importantly, everyone making major contributions defensively, punching the ball loose and creating transition opportunities via the press.

The togetherness extends on and off the floor.

“We’re always together, like a real family,” said Trench. Added freshman guard JuJuan Nicholas, another lethal scorer in the backcourt, “There’s no pointing fingers, never has been. We’ve been working together, and that’s come naturally to us.

“We’ve all been thinking about this since the beginning of the season. It’s very exciting.”

Like this season, the Rams entered the postseason in 2011 with a high seed and designs on reaching the first quarterfinal in school history. But that hope was extinguished by Ringgold when the Rams were upset in round two, on the road.

“We learned that we can’t be nervous. We can’t play scared,” said Gordon. “If we play like ourselves, like we have this year, we’ll do well.”ꆱ

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