East Feliciana High didn’t look or play like a 25th seed. The Tigers took eighth-seeded Runnels down to the final 3.5 seconds in the Class 2A bidistrict round game that helped open the playoffs at Runnels on Friday night.
That’s how much time was left when Josh Sparks stepped to the free throw line and calmly dropped in two free throws to give the Raiders a 70-66 win, their first playoff victory since 2008.
Sparks had made a free throw with 32.4 seconds left that gave the Raiders a two-point lead. EFHS worked for a final shot, but Demarco Branch was off the mark with a pull-up jumper in the lane. Andrew Hyde grabbed the crucial rebound.
Sparks, who scored a game-high 27 points, drew the foul that led to his game-clinching free throws.
“We had seniors out there who have worked four years for this and they got a reward,” said Runnels coach Ben Young, a former Runnels star and the Raiders’ fifth year coach. “We got a big stop at the end, and the rebound.
“Andrew (Hyde) is a senior, and I know he’d like more playing time, but when it comes down to it he does his job and brings a lot of energy to it.”
The first half featured a torrent of 3-pointers as Runnels (19-12) connected eight times from beyond the arc and the Tigers made five. Sparks was on fire for Runnels, opening with three straight 3s and going on to a 16-point first half. Mohammad Pirzadah had two 3s and Garrett Deshotels drained one with :08 in the half to put the Raiders up 35-34 at halftime.
Marvel Jackson and Branch had two apiece for the East Feliciana (14-15), and Joseph Dennis added one more.
“We hit a ton of 3s early, and they knocked down a lot of shots,” Young said. “Athletically they’re very good. We were trying to hold down the big guy (Tyquaylon Smith) in the middle and we let some shots get by. My guys just kept fighting, and it was a lot of fun.”
The Raiders held Smith scoreless in the first quarter before he came alive in the second and went on to lead the Tigers with 20 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter. Tre’Darius Carr added 19 for the Tigers despite sitting out several minutes of the second half with foul trouble, and Branch finished with 12. For Runnels, Pirzadah with 16 and Grant Welch with 10 were other leaders.
The biggest lead of the game came when the Raiders went up 62-56 on Sparks’ 3-point play with 3:30 to go. That didn’t last long, though, as the Tigers used a 9-4 run to cut the margin to 66-65 before the wild finish.
EFHS coach Adrian Dunn wanted the ball in his big man’s hands at the end.
“When I called my last time out I wanted to get the ball down low to him, but I had a freshman out there and he didn’t see him,” Dunn said. “We’ve got three freshmen out there, and they’re going through growing pains, but they never quit, and that’s all I can ask of them.”
Sparks said the Raiders worked hard in preparation for this game.
“We watched a lot of film, scouted them a lot,” Sparks said. “We knew we had to play our game, and if we did we’d get the win.
“We had a shaky start this season, but this feels good ... really, really good.”