ALEXANDRIA — There are many ways to win a basketball game and East Ascension utilized most of them Thursday night.
The Spartans dominated nearly every phase of the game en route to a 61-41 victory over local rival Zachary in the Class 5A semifinals that concluded Day 4 of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Basketball Tournament.
“I thought, basically, we did what we’ve been doing the whole season,” EAHS coach Dennis Chandler said. “We’re going to play good defense, we’re going to hustle, we’re going to attack with the dribble and keep constant pressure on the ball.”
Tristen Washington scored a game-high 17 points and Diniaa McZeal added 15 for EAHS (23-2), which advances to a girls basketball title game for the first time. The Spartans meet No. 7 Natchitoches Central, a 49-41 winner oover Captain Shreve, in the 5A title game set for 6 p.m. Saturday at the Rapides Parish Coliseum. It is EAHS’ first tourney appearance since 1992.
The Spartans made 15 of its 18 free throws, outrebounded Zachary 42-27 and made 46.0 percent of their shots from the field. The flip side was not pretty for fifth-seeded Zachary (26-9). JaMecia Profit scored 10 points and was the only Bronco in double figures. ZHS made just 28 percent of its shots from the field and got no closer than the 12-point halftime margin in the second half.
“I’m very proud of my whole team,” said ZHS coach Tami McClure, glancing over at seniors Rayah Haynes, Bryana Langford and JaMecia Profit in the interview room. “It’s a tough situation sitting here after losing as we did, but it doesn’t dictate how our season went. We just got beat by a better team tonight. They executed. We did not have the game we needed to have tonight.”
East Ascension started the game with a 6-1 surge. The Spartans held the upper hand the whole way and took a 17-9 lead into the second quarter.
Zachary countered with a 10-4 spurt in the first three minutes of the second quarter. A layup by Profit got the Broncos within two, at 21-19, with 4:50 to go in the half. But McZeal took control for East Ascension, scoring seven points in the final four minutes.
McZeal scored in the lane with 1.4 seconds remaining after EAHS spread the floor. She also was fouled and made the ensuing free throw to give East Ascension a 33-21 halftime lead, also closing out a 12-4 run.
There was a kind of magic to Zachary’s playoff run. The Broncos held off Fontainebleau to win on the road in the regional round and rallied from a nine-point deficit to down Ouachita in the quarterfinals.
Regardless of what they tried, Zachary found no way to bring the magic back. East Ascension started putting the game away with a 10-4 run to open the second half. By the midway point of the fourth quarter, the Spartans led by 22 points and were able to spread the floor and milk the clock.
The Zachary seniors were left to lament losing their final game. East Ascension got to relish the win.
“I’m pretty excited,” Washington said.
McZeal added, “It’s a blessing.”