Two of the best girls basketball teams on the north shore — and quite possibly the state — hooked up in a non-district matchup Monday, and the outcome was as tight as expected.
Ponchatoula, a Class 5A stalwart in recent years, defeated defending Class 4A champion Salmen 37-34 at the Spartans’ gym in Slidell.
The difference was in field-goal shooting. Salmen made only 13-of-54 shots from the field (24 percent) and was 2-of-22 from 3-point range.
Ponchatoula wasn’t much more effective, but because of Salmen’s ineffectiveness on the perimeter, they were able to clamp down on Salmen’s All-America center Kalani Brown.
Brown, a Baylor commitment, finished with a game-high 16 points, but she worked hard for them. Her teammates weren’t able to make the Green Wave pay when the ball was kicked outside, however.
“You have to be able to make a shot outside,” Salmen coach Kevin Anderson said. “We didn’t, and that was the difference.”
Ponchatoula (10-1) jumped to an 8-1 lead with Jyar Francis leading the way. She hit two free throws in the first minute, then pumped in a five-foot putback after a Salmen turnover. Francis drove the baseline for another bucket in the first quarter, and Airi Hamilton had a layup in the opening stretch.
The Green Wave led 24-17 at halftime and 29-24 after the third quarter. Salmen (4-1) closed the scored to one point with 2:12 remaining in the game on a Brown putback, but Ponchatoula hit enough free throws in the stretch to eke out the victory.
Francis and Hamilton finished with 15 points for Ponchatoula.
“Coach (Patricia Landaiche) told us if we got Kalani out of the game, we would win,” Francis said. “We had to limit them to one shot and then box out.”
In addition to her game-high 16 points, Brown had eight rebounds and six blocks. But when the ball found its way outside, the Spartans couldn’t connect on baskets.
Tiara Warren was the only other Salmen player in double digits with 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting.