Lady Cougars can’t overcome bad start in 45-39 semifinal loss

HAMMOND – When Cedar Creek hosted Highland Baptist last year in the LHSAA Division IV girls basketball quarterfinals, it was a tight battle for three quarters and then the Lady Cougars finished strong.

A year later, in a much different setting, Cedar Creek again finished strong. But it wasn’t enough to overcome a miserable start Monday afternoon.

A 45-39 final margin for the New Iberia-based Lady Bears was as close as it got after the opening minutes in a state semifinal contest at the University Center in Hammond.

Highland Baptist (21-4), the No. 2 seed, overpowered Cedar Creek (20-4, No. 3) early, surging up 16-4 after one quarter and 27-10 by halftime.

The Lady Cougars couldn’t find the basket, missing 13 of 15 shots in the opening eight minutes and finishing the half sinking only 5 of 29 (0-7 on 3-pointers). Meanwhile, in the decisive first quarter, the Lady Bears went 7 of 14 from the floor, including 2 of 6 on 3s, mostly on the back of 5-10 center Marin Barras, who collected 16 rebounds by halftime and 27 overall.

Staggering heading into the locker room at halftime, Cedar Creek returned determined and executed the adjustments cited by coach Gene VanDenLangerberg.

“We came back in the second half with a lot of fight, and we fought to the end,” he said. “We had to keep their post from getting those rebounds and putbacks, and we had to get more physical. The game was played in a real physical manner, and we didn’t get after it in the first half.

“We were rushing our shots. They were more like throw ups. They weren’t really good shots,” he said. “In the second half we took good shots, just not enough of them went in.”

But enough did that Cedar Creek outscored Highland Baptist 29-18 in the final two periods, mostly in the final five minutes.

Junior point guard Sarah Adams, who incredibly did not get to the free throw line all afternoon despite the Lady Bears’ aggressive defense, drained a jumper with 5:04 left that started a game-ending 15-8 run by the Lady Cougars. Her 3-pointer with 38 seconds left drew Creek within 43-37, but it got no closer.

“I’m so proud of the way they took good shots and played really hard, physical defense,” said VanDenLangerberg. “We just dug ourselves too big a hole.”

Adams posted 18 points, three assists and three steals. Senior Riley Spradlin, one of two Creek starters who fouled out, snagged 11 rebounds.

Barras scored 15 points for Highland Baptist, led by 17 from Bri Sensley. The Lady Bears got 17 free throw tries in the final quarter, and made 10 to hold off the rally.

Stats didn’t tell the whole story. Cedar Creek was hampered by an ankle injury sustained by its primary post player, junior Millie Venters, in the quarterfinal victory last Thursday, and she was unable to contribute Monday. But after halftime, sophomore Lizzie McAdams and freshman Elli Dickerson locked down on Barras, disrupting the Lady Bears’ offense and keying the comeback opportunity.

Playing on the big stage, not back home in the Brick House, was not the problem.

“We’re not used to a big arena like this and staying in hotels,” said VanDenLangerberg, but, “the mindset was there for four quarters. The offense was not there in the first half.”

Just as the valiant second half performance was a triumph of willpower, so was this season, he said.

“We overcame a lot two major knee surgeries, after injuries in our first game and the eighth game, and an ankle injury that cost us our best post player in the quarterfinals. We overcame a lot this year and we were not the favorites. We overachieved.”

In doing so, the Lady Cougars served notice, with Spradlin the only senior starter departing, that a third state semifinal appearance in 2021-22 is very realistic – and maybe more is in store. That doubtlessly made Monday’s ride home a little less bumpy.

Photo: Cedar Creek School/Christy Mabou

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