Wildcats edge Jays in thriller

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, February 26, 2013



RESERVE — For the second time in as many playoff games, East St. John found itself down in the fourth quarter, its season on the line.

And for the second time in as many playoff games, the Wildcats didn’t wilt.

Kyle Patterson sank two free throws to push East St. John ahead of Jesuit with 22.1 seconds remaining and the Wildcat defense fended off two Blue Jay attempts to tie, securing a 39-38 Class 5A regional round victory in front of a frenzied home crowd at Leon Godchaux Jr. High gymnasium.

“These kids are just together. They fight together,” said East St. John coach Yussef Jasmine. “We didn’t get off to the kind of start any of us wanted.

“These guys don’t care who gets the individual success or credit on a given night. They only care about getting the win. And so everyone is happy tonight.”

With the win, ESJ (24-7) advanced to the state quarterfinals to face top-seeded Ouachita. That game was scheduled for Tuesday night, after press time. See Saturday’s edition for the game story.

The game was a rematch of a Dec. 13 game between the teams at Godchaux that saw ESJ win 67-49 in a game that was never close.

But Jesuit (18-10) led for much of this one, successfully slowing the game down early and forcing ESJ out of the zone defense that gave the Blue Jays fits in the first game.

It was an exceptionally physical contest in which the officials let much go; ESJ attempted just 10 free throws on the night, and Jesuit 11.

“That was one of the hardest games I’ve ever played in,” said ESJ’s Isreal Bell, who sparked the Wildcats’ offense by sinking three 3-pointers. “It was like we were playing football out there, just scoring baskets instead of touchdowns.”

East St. John had just three points until Elex Carter’s jumper with just under five minutes left in the second quarter, yet ESJ never trailed by more than 10.

“We’re a much better team than we were (in the first game),” said Jesuit coach Chris Jennings. “And we’ve been a very good defensive team.”

Bell scored a team-high nine points. Troy Green added eight. Carter snatched 16 rebounds.

Trey Laforge scored 11 to lead Jesuit. Matt Felger chipped in seven.

While East St. John closed the first half gap to four at halftime, 16-12, Jesuit was able to keep ESJ at arm’s length for most of the second half and the Blue Jays took a 31-25 lead into the fourth quarter.

But the Wildcats drew close after a layup by Tre’Von Jasmine and then a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Bell made it 31-30.

“You can’t panic,” said Bell. “Not in the playoffs.”

Felger answered with a jumper at the other end. Edwin Winston pulled ESJ within one again when he scored inside to make it 33-32. Then Monterio Cage came up with a steal resulting in a wild sequence that saw Winston scream through the lane for an attempted go-ahead slam; he missed, but Raekwon McKnight grabbed the offensive board and nailed a jumper to give ESJ its first lead of the night with 5:17 remaining.

Felger put Jesuit back ahead with a jumper, then Sean Tillery scored on a leakout to put Jesuit ahead by three. Carter sank a jumper to pull ESJ back within one at 37-36 with four minutes left.

Neither team would make a field goal over an intense final four minutes. Felger made one of two free throws at the line, then Green matched that to make it 38-37 with 1:59 left.

The Blue Jays had a chance to land a knockout punch when Felger got loose on another leakout, missing a layup but drawing a foul. He missed the front end of a one and one. At the other end, two ESJ shot attempts inside were no good before Patterson grabbed an offensive rebound and was sent to the floor and fouled.

“It’s funny,” said Yussef Jasmine. “Kyle was taking all of these outside shots at shootaround earlier. And he can make those. But I grabbed the ball and walked to the free throw line. I was telling him, ‘Go to where you do what you do.’ And then he’s in that spot tonight and he makes them with the crowd going bananas. He’s clutch.”

Jesuit’s Chase Eckholdt missed a potential game-winner, but the Blue Jays got a reprieve when Carter, thinking time was about to expire, grabbed the miss and hurled the ball downcourt and out of bounds with 4.1 seconds left.

“He’ll learn from that. It was just the excitement of the moment,” said Jasmine.

Jesuit still had to go the length of the floor, and Felger’s desperation heave — with a strong contest from Carter — came up empty.

“They(East St. John) make you scramble, the way they play. They play so hard,” said Jennings.

“It was such a physical game that you can’t really run a play there in that spot.”

And the final East St. John celebration — maybe ever — at Leon Godchaux was on. Certainly the loudest and latest of many: East St. John finished the season undefeated at the junior high gymnasium, converted to become the new Wildcats home after Hurricane Issac.

“You know, I’ll miss this place,” said Bell. “I’ll miss the East St. John-Godchaux gym.”