GONZALES — East Ascension’s basketball program took the next logical step in its development.
Three years after the school reached the state semifinals this current group of Spartans, which didn’t have any postseason experience, erased a three-year span without a playoff victory.
No. 13 East Ascension parlayed a methodical finishing kick with a fast start into a 60-48 victory Friday over No. 20 Denham Springs in a Class 5A first-round playoff game.
“Nobody that played today played in a playoff game before,” EA coach Barry Whittington said. “I have one senior, and everybody else is sophomores and juniors. It’s good to get that experience under our belt, but I want to do this a couple of more times.”
EA (28-5), which won for the 10th time in its past 12 games, travels to No. 4 St. Paul’s, an 83-72 winner over No. 29 Acadiana, in next Tuesday’s regional round.
“I thought our effort was good enough,” Denham Springs coach Kevin Caballero said. “I thought we played really hard. The ball just didn’t bounce very well for us tonight.”
Denham Springs (17-14) spent the better part of the third quarter trying to erase an EA advantage that had grown as many as 12 points and was 35-26 at halftime.
The Yellow Jackets, who closed the quarter with a furious 12-4 rally, appeared to have the best of both worlds when leading scorer Torez Kinchen was fouled out a 3-point attempt that sent EA’s leading scorer Bilal Frank to the bench with his fourth foul.
Kinchen made one of his three attempts, drawing Denham Springs to within 41-39 early in the fourth quarter when Le’Aaron Cain took over with seven consecutive points for a 48-39 lead with 5:34 remaining.
Cain scored 13 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter with Frank, who led the Spartans with 17, on the bench for the remaining seven-plus minutes of the game.
Kinchen, who led all scorers with 20 points, made two of four free throw attempts and a lay-in following a turnover that left the Yellow Jackets faced with a 48-45 deficit with three minutes to play.
Denham, which had won 12 of 14 games since Jan. 2, couldn’t get closer and wound up shooting 2-of-12 from the field and 5-of-9 from the free throw line in the quarter.
Conversely, EA made a living at the free throw line with three different players combining to make 10-of-11 attempts in the last 2:30.
The Spartans, who also got 10 points apiece from Jamal London and Marques Anderson, scored the game’s final eight points, all from the line.
“Give EA credit, they’re good,” Caballero said. “They’ve won 28 games and coach Whittington does a good job with them. They keep the pressure on you and you never can relax.”