Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 9, 2013


MONROE – So many times during the second half of the Class 1A championship game, it looked as if top-seeded West St. John was just one more basket, one more play away from finally wresting their long coveted state championship away from opponent Vermilion Catholic. But the second-seeded Eagles never let it happen.
The Rams’ dream season ended in heartbreak Thursday after Kaylen Collins’ go-ahead layup with 6 seconds remaining proved the game-winner, lifting Vermilion Catholic to a 54-52 victory at UL-Monroe’s Fant-Ewing Coliseum — and the 1A state championship along with it.
“I thought our team left it all out on the floor,” said West St. John coach Lester Smith. “My hat’s off to Vermilion Catholic. They came out with a good plan.
“There were a lot of kids crying in the aftermath. But this wasn’t because we didn’t play hard enough to win. We just came up a little short today.”
Vermilion Catholic’s Katie Frith earned championship game MVP honors, scoring 25 points and grabbing 20 rebounds. Collins finished with nine points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Jaylyn Gordon hit 11 of her 20 shots, including six 3-pointers, and scored a game-high 30 points to lead West St. John (31-2), Jujuan Nicholas added 10 and Maya Trench scored 8.
Collins’ game-winner came out of a Vermilion Catholic (28-6) time out taken with 11 seconds left after Gordon made one of two free throws to tie the game at 52. Ashailee Brailey took the ball and found Collins open underneath for a score.
“I saw it hit the rim and I panicked inside,” said Collins. “I thought it was gonna come off, and I almost had a heart attack, seriously. But when I made it … it was such an amazing feeling to see it go in and to hear everyone cheering.”
Said Vermilion Catholic coach Kim Guidry: “We had a designated play, but our whole goal was to go inside. We knew they were in foul trouble … and thank God, we got it to Kaylen for the shot, and she came up huge.”
West St. John called timeout with 4.4 seconds remaining, but on the final play Gordon had to attempt a desperation heave from beyond midcourt that came up short.
The game was back and forth from the get-go, featuring 10 ties and 11 lead changes. Eight of those lead changes came in the wild fourth quarter alone.
The Eagles led 24-18 at halftime after a second quarter that saw VCHS hold West St. John to just four points.
West St. John forced 25 Eagle turnovers while committing just 11, and the Rams attempted 19 more shots than VCHS (65-46). But the difference came at the foul line, where Vermilion made 24 of 30 free throw attempts. West St. John made three of nine at the stripe.
Both teams shot poorly overall, Vermilion shooting 32.6 percent to West St. John’s 30.8 percent. But it was a tale of two halves for each team: Vermilion Catholic shot 42.3 percent in the first half and just 20 percent in the second. Meanwhile, West St. John shot 20 percent in the first half but bounced back to post a 43.3 mark in the second, beginning the third quarter with consecutive 3s from Trench and Nicholas.
“We came out (for the second half), and we knew we had to go out and get it. And that’s what we set out to do,” said Nicholas.
Added Smith, “I told them at half, as bad as we were playing, we were only down six. This isn’t over … and it was back and forth from there.”
The Rams tied the game at 28 midway through the third after Gordon scored on a crossover and layup, then gave WSJ its first second half lead, 31-30, on a deep 3 from the wing.
But Frith answered inside at the other end, scoring and drawing a foul for a 3-point play.
With six minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Trench sunk a walk-up 3 to put WSJ ahead. Then the Rams’ defense dug in, forcing a slew of VCHS turnovers; the Eagles were whistled for a whopping six traveling violations over the next two minutes and change, and Trench’s runner with 3:49 gave WSJ a 46-43 lead.
But the Rams couldn’t extend that lead, and the final minute saw a frantic sequence. Frith sank two free throws to make it a 51-50 WSJ lead, then Brailey tied up Gordon for a jump ball. Gordon answered by pressuring VCHS into another traveling violation. Gordon drew a foul, but missed the front end of a 1-and-1. At the other end, Collins drew a foul underneath and sank two go-ahead free throws. With 18.7 seconds left, Gordon drew a foul and made one of two at the line to tie the game, setting up its deciding sequence.
As she did in the Rams’ semifinal win, Gordon began the game on fire. She sank four of her five shots from the field, all of them 3s.
“I came out knowing I had to play,” said Gordon, WSJ’s all-time leading scorer. “I guess I felt at home.”
For Vermilion Catholic, it was the team’s first state championship since 1999.
“You cry because you’re happy, then you cry because its over,” said Collins. “It’s just an amazing feeling. It’s so many emotions together, just too much to handle.”
For the Rams, the state runner-up finish caps by far the program’s best season ever. It was the Lady Rams’ first-ever appearance in the state championship. West St. John is 50-3 in its last 53 games.
“We made this a basketball school, a real team,” said Gordon, a senior and Louisiana-Lafayette signee. “It wasn’t just me. It was Maya, Jujuan, Jaquanna … it’s everyone. We did it together.”