East Ascension was pushed to the limit Tuesday evening, but the Spartans showed signs of maturity in their District 5-5A opener at Catholic High.
Caught in a tough, deliberately paced game, East Ascension made 12 of 16 free throws in the fourth quarter to turn back Catholic 52-46.
The win was satisfying for Spartans coach Barry Whittington, whose team has come up short in similar games this season.
“We’ve lost some games like this,” Whittington said. “Back-and-forth battles with Plaquemine, Riverside, West Jefferson.
“This time we did a good job of taking care of the basketball and making our free throws at the end.”
Lee’Aaron Cain led a balanced Spartans’ attack with 14 points and got support from Shedrick Smith with 11. Cain and Smith each made two 3-pointers.
East Ascension (20-4, 1-0) led 36-34 entering the fourth quarter. Toliver Freeman, Catholic’s top scorer with 11 points, tied the score with a driving basket. Catholic (15-6, 0-1) also forced ties at 39 and 41, but then fell behind for good.
Jimel London provided the spark as East Ascension capitalized on three consecutive Catholic turnovers. London hit four free throws and then made a steal and a layup, giving the Spartans a 47-41 lead with 1:46 remaining.
Grant Sceroler’s 3-pointer helped Catholic pull within 48-46. Cain put the game away as he made four free throws in the final minute.
“I thought we played pretty well as a whole,” Catholic coach Mark Cascio said. “I like the way we fought and didn’t quit when we fell behind. The second you don’t have an answer against that team they get out in transition and shoot rhythm 3s.
“We’ve got to execute better, but give them credit.”
Catholic shot 47 percent (17 of 36) and grabbed 25 rebounds. East Ascension made 43 percent of its field goals (16 of 37) and had 27 rebounds.
Catholic took a 9-5 lead and led 9-7 after one quarter. Sparked by 3-pointers from Koye Ruffin and Smith, East Ascension rallied in the second quarter.
Jarvis Moll’s inside basket gave the Spartans a 21-13 lead with 1:48 left in the half.
Catholic battled back on baskets by Ethan Treigle and John Ward. Dean Jolly’s long 3-pointer beat the halftime buzzer, and Catholic trailed only 23-20 at halftime.
East Ascension held a 28-27 lead midway through the third, but Cain’s 3-pointer sparked a 7-2 surge that left the Spartans on top 36-29.
Catholic fought back again with another 3-pointer by Jolly, leaving the Bears within 36-34 entering the fourth quarter.
“The tempo was somewhat in our favor, but we didn’t make the shots like we normally do,” Whittington said. “It was good to pull out the win because Catholic has physically strong kids. They’re solid.”
Cascio said the Bears won’t have time to dwell on opening district with a loss.
“There’s a lot of basketball left to be played,” he said. “It’s a cliché, but you’ve got to take it one game at a time. That’s all you can do.”
For Whittington, playing at Catholic early in the district schedule was a stress reliever.
“I’m glad to get this one out of the way,” Whittington said. “Now I don’t have to worry about Catholic looming at the end of the season. Win or lose it’s out of your hair.”