Bearcats drop OT heartbreaker

Too many turnovers and missed free throws ultimately led to a season-ending loss as Ruston High fell 59-53 in overtime to 11th seed Northshore in a very physical quarterfinal Class 5A playoff game Friday night.

In a season that Bearcat fans will want to remember, it was a difficult result they may want to forget.

Ruston jumped out to an early 17-6 lead after the first quarter as the Bearcats looked poised to advance to Marsh Madness in Lake Charles before a home crowd at the RHS Main Gym.

“Our guys were focused and were really, really geared up early,” said head coach Ryan Bond. “We made some shots early. The guys were ready. We did a good job of defensively. We were crisp and quick to the ball.”

Northshore guard Kohen Rowbatham had other ideas.

Rowbatham and the Panthers (25-6) began to make shots and turned up the pressure defensively, forcing the Bearcats (26-5) into costly turnovers. Northshore cut the Cats lead to 29-26 at halftime.

“What turned (the momentum) was turnovers,” said Bond. “We started turning the ball over. It was just turnovers. That’s a bye product of the physicality. Northshore started playing more physical and the refs allowed that. I thought (the officials) did a poor job on both sides. (Rowbatham) ended up with 35 points. He could have had 50 if the officials blew their whistles. We fouled them too.

“We gave up 20 points in the second quarter. We had 12 turnovers at halftime. I don’t know how many we ended up with for the game.”

The second half was one that offensively Ruston would like to have back as the Bearcats scored just 10 points in the third quarter and only seven in the fourth quarter as the two teams ended regulation tied 46-46.

Although Bond noted that his team hurt themselves at times, he was more frustrated with the level of officiating the game saw.

“You want to have neutral officials,” said Bond. “They were from Baton Rouge, and this team is from Slidell. I don’t know how the LHSAA determines who goes where. Looking at a map would be something to consider. But, they were bad on both sides.”

Ruston had its chance in overtime. After Ruston hit one of two free throws to start the overtime period, Northshore answered with a Rowbatham three-pointer and the Bearcats found themselves playing  catch-up during the remainder of the four-minute extra period.

Rowbatham scored nine of his 35-points in OT, while the Bearcats hurt themselves at the charity stripe, making just 2-of-7 in OT.

Bond said as hard as the loss is to accept, he is proud of what the Bearcats accomplished this year.

“If you would have said before the season that we were going to win 26 ball games, win district and advance to the quarterfinals, I would have said sign me up,” said Bond. “But I hurt as a coach for the seniors. I hurt for Dillon and Jackson and Michael. I will have another game as a Ruston coach, but those guys won’t be able to put on the Ruston uniform again.

“We have a lot of guys coming back, but there is never a guarantee that we will put ourselves in the same position again. We will see. I am proud of the guys for the hard work, their time and their effort. It’s been satisfying to coach these guys. It’s been fun to come to practice every day.”

Braylon McNeal and Jay Lillard led Ruston with 15 points each, while Jackson Pilgreen added nine and Dillon Wilson scored seven.

Northshore advances to face 7th seed Walker in the semifinals.

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