HAMMOND — Central Catholic’s Lady Eagles took the next step in their modern basketball history with a trip to the state semifinals this year.
Unfortunately for the Lady Eagles, they couldn’t keep the historic season going as they fell to top-ranked West St. John in the Class 1A state semifinals, 66-58, Thursday at the University Center at South-eastern Louisiana University.
The Lady Rams were led by senior and University of Louisiana at Lafayette signee Jayln Gordon, who had 32 points as well as 12 rebounds, one block and three steals.
However, she was hardly the only player that hurt the Lady Eagles as guards Maya Trench contributed 13 points, four rebounds, nine assists and two steals and Jajuan Nicholas had 12 points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal.
“Not too many teams you play can have three guards like that that can beat you off the dribble and can also shoot lights out from beyond the arc so you got to pick and choose your battles,” Central Catholic coach Jamarr Garrett said. “You can either back up off of them in a zone and let them shoot and nine times out of 10 they’re going to make shots like that. Or, you can take your chances playing them man (to man) up close and them beating you off the dribble. They’re a really good team.”
The Lady Eagles played from behind the entire game as West St. John raced out to a 22-12 lead after a period of play on the strength of the hot shooting of Gordon. She scored 14 points and was four-of-four from three-point range in the quarter.
Her last three-pointer, no doubt, was her most impressive as she made it with a Lady Eagle defender in her face.
While it never led in the game, Central Catholic never folded either, as it continued to mount runs at West St. John to get itself back in the ball game.
The only problem was West St. John had an answer for every Central Catholic rally.
“I think it was a great game. … We know that Central Catholic was going to come with their ‘A’ game and we had to come with our ‘A’ game also,” West St. John coach Lester Smith said, explaining that players on both teams were familiar with each other from AAU basketball in the summer.
They also had played each other a year ago in the Class 1A quarterfinals, a game West St. John won 69-62.
In Thursday’s game, Central Catholic struggled to find its groove initially — the squad missed its first five shots, many of them hitting no more than the front of the rim, before Randi Brown snared a rebound off her miss at the 6:12 mark of the first quarter and converted the putback to cut the West St. John lead to 1 at 3-2.
That was the closest the squad would get the remainder of the game as West St. John’s first-quarter advantage ballooned to as much as 11 following a layup by Gordon after a Meo Knight turnover.
While Central Catholic cut the deficit to five at 17-12 with 1:40 remaining following consecutive three-pointers by Randi Brown and Makayla McDaniel, Gordon hit her most impressive three-pointer of the night on the Lady Rams’ ensuing possession to push the advantage to 20-12 after one quarter.
The Lady Eagles had plenty of chances to get back into the game in the second quarter with West St. John turnovers or misses, but the Lady Eagles could not convert enough on the offensive end.
While Central Catholic cut the deficit to seven at 24-17 with 3:21 remaining in the second quarter following a free throw by Knight, West St. John immediately went on a 5-0 run to push the advantage back to double digits at 29-17 following Mychelle Lumar’s free throw with 2:03.
Central Catholic’s Megan Landry cut the deficit to eight at the half at 31-23 following two free throws with eight seconds remaining; however, West St. John nearly put themselves up by double-digits again when Trench’s long range three-point at-tempt clanged off the back of the iron before failing to fall in.
Despite how badly they had played, Garrett was optimistic entering the third quarter because Central Catholic only trailed by eight.
“We played horrible in the first half,” he said. “They know it. I know it, and we were only down eight. For it to be that close the way we played was big, and I was hoping we would come out with a spark in the second half.”
Unfortunately, West St. John had more firepower than the Lady Eagles coming out the half.
In the third quarter, West St. John gave itself a double-digit lead at 34-23 following a three pointer by Nicholas just five seconds into the third quarter.
The Lady Rams were able to keep a double-digit lead for much of the quarter. The lead grew to as much as 15 on four occasions.
West St. John led 49-35 after three quarters following McDaniel’s free throw.
In the fourth quarter, Central Catholic got the lead down to as much as nine points, which it did on three separate occasions, before West St. John would answer each time.
The Lady Eagles whittled the deficit down to its small-est deficit, at 8 twice in the final minute, the final time when Knight hit two free throws with five seconds remaining for the final.
West St. John (31-1) will advance to next week’s Class 1A finals where it will face the winner of either Central Catholic’s District 8-1A foe and second-seed Vermilion Catholic or third-seed North Central. Those teams were set to play in another semifinal today in Lake Charles.
While he is losing five seniors off this year’s squad, Garrett does return Knight who led the squad with a double-double with 20 points and 14 rebounds as well as an assist, a block and a steal, and Brown, who had 24 points, nine rebounds, an assist and three blocks.
“I don’t want to take any-thing away from the five seniors that we have, but having these two coming back is going to be very big for us,” he said during the postgame news conference with Knight and Brown near him. “Like I said before this, the loss to them last year in the quarterfinals, I think that’s what gave us the drive last round because we knew what it took to win that game. Maybe it’ll be the same next year. This loss we just took to them in the semifinals, maybe we will know that feeling and know what it takes to win the game next year and maybe advance.”
The Lady Eagles (24-8) also return Landry, who had four points, seven rebounds and two steals in Thursday’s contest.
Another top contributor in Thursday’s loss and one of the five seniors is McDaniel, who had eight points, seven rebounds and one assist.