Lady Rams best Eagles, 1 win away from crown

Published 11:45 pm Friday, March 1, 2013



HAMMOND — West St. John senior guard Jaylyn Gordon admitted that last season, she and her teammates were a little overwhelmed in their first-ever game at the Top 28 state basketball tournament.

But with that experience under their belts, this year’s Lady Rams team was anything but in their state semifinal game against Central Catholic. And now they’re headed to their first-ever state championship game.

Gordon scored a game-high 32 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the charge as the top-seeded Rams defeated Central Catholic, 66-58, at Southeastern’s University Center Thursday night.

West St. John will face the winner of Friday’s North Central and Vermilion Catholic game. That result came after press time. The state championship game will be played next week at the Fant-Ewing Coliseum in Monroe, with the day and time to be determined.

Last year at this time, West St. John’s season ended at the hands of Tensas after an uncharacteristically poor shooting night for the Rams. Gordon shot just 10 for 30 in that game.

But the Rams were ready this time around, and Gordon made sure her team got off to a fast start: she scored 14 of her team’s 22 first quarter points, shooting 5 for 6 from the field and 4 for 4 at the foul line.

“Last year, we felt nervous,” said Gordon. “Playing that game helped us a lot for this year. This time, (the atmosphere) felt like a home game at our school.”

WSJ (31-1) led 22-12 after the first quarter (after shooting 56 percent) and never allowed the Eagles to draw closer than eight the rest of the night.

With the win, the Rams have now won a scorching 50 of their last 52 games dating back to the beginning of a 19-game win streak late last season.

Could Rams coach Lester Smith ever have expected anything close to this?

“No, I never thought anything like 31-1,” said Smith, as Gordon playfully nodded at him as if to say, ‘No way’. “We probably played one of the toughest schedules of any 1A team this year. But we’ve just continued to get better week by week.”

Gordon went a perfect 12 for 12 at the free throw line and made four 3-pointers to go along with three steals and a blocked shot.

She wasn’t alone. Maya Trench scored 13 points and dished out nine assists to just two turnovers. Jujuan Nicholas scored 12.

“Not many teams have three guards like they have, who can all beat you off the dribble and shoot the lights out. They make you pick your poison. You can either back up off them in a zone, let them shoot the 3 and hope they miss shots. Nine times out of 10, they don’t. Or, you can play man to man and they’ll beat you to the basket.

“You can’t sag off of them like you’d like to because of how well they shoot. They’re just a very good basketball team,” said Central Catholic coach Jamaar Garrett.

Defensively, West St. John was just as difficult to deal with. The Lady Rams defense held the Eagles to 25 percent shooting on the night. Eagle standouts Meo Knight and Randi Brown shot a combined 13-47 from the field.

“They kind of had their guards sagging in the paint,” said Knight. “So you’re not dealing with one person, but three people when you’re going in.”

Gordon sank a 3-pointer from the wing just six seconds into play, setting the tone for the night. Brown answered with a turnaround shot in the lane, but a Deja Feist layup off a feed from Nicholas sent WSJ on a 7-0 run that made it 10-2. A runner by Trench made it 12-4, then Gordon sunk a 3 and scored a layup off of a steal and assist from Trench to make it 17-6.

Central (24-8) hung tough after consecutive 3-pointers by Brown and Makayla McDaniel cut the lead to five. The Eagles dug in defensively and held WSJ to seven second quarter points. Central Catholic trailed by just eight, 31-23, despite making just seven of 32 first half shots.

“These teams know each others tendencies,” said Smith. “Some lot of the girls play together during the summer during AAU ball. They know what we do and vice versa.”

Added Garrett, “We felt like we played poorly in the first half, but we were still right in the game.”

The Eagles were committed to stopping Gordon in the third quarter, committing a defender to follow her around in the Eagles’ box-and-one zone.

But Trench and Nicholas used the extra space that afforded to lead WSJ on another run.

Trench found an open Nicholas to start the third and she burned Central with a 3 from the corner. A Trench runner made it 36-24, then another answered a Knight 3 to make it 38-28. She found Nicholas open again for a corner 3, then Nicholas registered a steal and fed Trench for a layup. With 4:05 left in the frame, WSJ had opened it up to a 43-28 lead. The Rams led 49-35 entering the fourth.

“When (Gordon) isn’t scoring, I know I need to pick it up for her,” said Trench. “I have to have her back just like she has mine.”

A cause for some concern came early in the fourth quarter, after Brown scored and converted an and-one with 6:58 left; Gordon picked up her fourth foul on the play.

But she remained in the rest of the way and scored 12 points in the quarter to help the Rams ice the game.

The Rams have now won 18 straight games.

One more nets them rings.

“Why not go out with a bang?” asked Gordon.