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ESJH upsets No. 2 seed Ponchatoula

PONCHATOULA  — The No. 15 seed East St. John girls basketball team’s 58-38 win against No. 2 seed Ponchatoula High may have been surprising to some, but head coach Stasha James sees it as a result of preparation and a cohesive strategy.

The girls were well prepared coming into the game, with a 27-7 overall record, 12-0 in District, and a history of high intensity gameplay.

Along with prior success came the realization that the Lady Cats were the underdogs against Ponchatoula, a formidable team with only two early season losses.

“I’ve been preparing my girls defensively,” James said. “We know we can shoot and score. I told them that if we are able to hold our opponents down defensively and keep them from scoring, there’s no stopping us.”

The game’s start was slow and uninspiring, according to James. When the first quarter ended with the Lady Cats trailing, it took a pep talk to turn it around and fuel the girls’ confidence.

East St. John came back with a vengeance during the second half, making free throw after free throw.

Ja’keyra Gautreaux led the team in scoring with 18 points, followed by Taylor Lipps with 14 points. Kayja Jackson and Meah Monroe each put up 11 points.

It’s indicative of how the rest of the season as gone, as the four seniors have shined from day one.

Since December, Lipps, Monroe, Jackson and Gautreaux have averaged 14, 15, 12 and 11 points per game, respectively.

James said all four have college offers and enough experience to rise to the next level without experiencing culture shock. As a former college player, James has worked to create a heightened level of competition.

The season has been filled with many triumphs, including regular season victories against top teams and last week’s 52-39 bi-district playoff win against Landry Walker.

Having made it to the semifinals last year helped the team know what to expect, James said. The whole season has been a learning experience laying a foundation for years to come, she said.

“It’s definitely been successful,” James said. “Winning District 12-0 says a good bit, beating a couple of the top seeds. Even when we lost games, we learned how to play together and we learned how to fight. We practiced hard with a high intensity that we brought into each game.”

The Lady Cats are setting their sights on a Thursday night quarterfinal game at Natchitoches Central.

Wildcats Playoff

The No. 22 seed East St. John High boys basketball team competes in a bi-district away game against No. 11 seed Slidell High at 6 p.m. Friday.