By T. Scott Boatright
CADEVILLE — Third time’s the charm. Third time lucky. The reasoning behind the sayings didn’t matter to Ruston High School girl’s basketball coach Meredith Graf. She and her Lady Bearcats just needed a third straight win over West Ouachita this season.
And the Lady Bearcats made that happen Monday night as fifth-seeded Ruston pulled away from the 19th-seeded Lady Chiefs in the second half as RHS defeated West Ouachita 74-40 at the WOHS Gym to advance to the quarterfinals of the Class 5A girl’s playoffs.
“I’m proud of how we came out and executed our game plan and really competed,” Graf said. “It’s hard to beat any team, let alone a playoff team, three times in a row. We know each other well. We respect each other. We know what each other is capable of. It’s just hard doing it three times. That’s a feat in itself, to be honest. I just love from the beginning until the very end, we were competing.
“We made some mistakes and did some things wrong, but there was 100% effort from every single player from the time they stepped on the floor until the final horn sounded. Every single one of them.”
Ruston scored the first six points of the contest as Jaliyah McWain and Alexis Foster both swished through 3-point shots in the opening two minutes of the contest,
By the time the opening stanza ended, Emerald Parker had scored three baskets in the paint (one from underneath and a pair of short jumpers in the lane) that helped push the Lady Bearcats out to a 22-11 advantage heading into the second quarter.
But as Graf said, it’s hard to beat the same team three straight times, and West Ouachita wasn’t ready to go down without a fight.
Ruston had moved out in front by 13 points at 26-13 when West Ouachita heated up behind the 3-point shooting of Jill Peacock, who nailed a pair of treys along with a 2-point jumper that cut the Ruston lead to 30-25 with 1:03 left before halftime.
But in the final minute of the second quarter the Lady Bearcats took advantage of a steal and layup from Alexis Foster sandwiched in between four made free throws by Zaccheya Jackson, the last two coming with only herself on the court with no time left on the clock, to push the RHS lead back to nine at 36-25 as the team went into the locker room.
The Lady Bearcats roared out of the gates to open the second half, going on a 15-0 run to build a 51-25 advantage at the 3:43 mark of the third quarter.
By the end of that stanza, Ruston’s lead stood at 57-27 heading into the final eight minutes.
“We told them before the game it was going to be a dogfight. We knew that,” Graf said. “We knew both teams were going to have their moments of runs. That’s part of basketball, especially in any high stakes game. You just can’t get caught up in the highs and the lows.
“But the biggest thing I stressed at halftime was second chances. We had to win the second-chance battle on the offensive end. And that was huge for us. When you have that kind of mentality it feeds and funnels off of everything else. Of course, we stressed defense – that’s normal. But those second chance points were really what it was combined with our defense and then getting some easy baskets in transition.”
Graf said her Lady Bearcats are ready to hit the road and face fourth-seeded Ponchatoula, which defeated West Jefferson 66-41 Monday night to advance to Thursday’s quarterfinals round.
“You want to get a rhythm, where you’re excited and feeling good about yourself, and right now we are, ” Graf said. “Ponchatoula is a fantastic team and well-coached. We’ve been well-tested on the road this season, and I feel we’ve got a lot of experience that can help us go into that environment and really compete and make some noise.”
Graf added that she’s not all surprised to see her team in the position it’s in.
“I knew what this group was capable of,” Graf said. “They work hard, they have great team chemistry and we all have the same goals. We’ve had the same goal from day one, so I’m not surprised at all where we are right now. That’s not to sound arrogant, but we expected to be here. When you’re fortunate enough to have a group of girls like this group I have right now, that work hard, love each other and are bought in, good things happen when you have those things together.”
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