HAMMOND — The day started in court, but ultimately Salmen High ruled on the court.
The sixth-seeded Spartans transitioned in more ways than one, claiming a 63-34 victory over No. 2 St. Michael the Archangel in a Class 4A girls basketball semifinal game that opened Friday’s action at The Advocate/Southeast Regional tournament at SLU’s University Center.
Salmen 6-foot-5 post player Kalani Brown scored a game-high 24 points and pulled down 15 rebounds, while teammate Hayley Pinchon added 16. Journee Beard, who finished with 12 points on four 3-pointers, led St. Michael (32-5).
“I just thank God for the opportunity,” said guard Macy DeGruy, who added 10 points. “Not too many teams get second chances.”
Few teams had to endure what St. Michael, Salmen (29-3) and third-seeded Vandebilt Catholic did during the two days leading up to the game.
Salmen lost to third-seeded Vandebilt 48-44 in a Monday quarterfinal, but learned late Wednesday afternoon that Vandebilt had self-reported a possible rules violation. That report led to the Louisiana High School Athletic Association ruling that a VCHS player was ineligible.
Suddenly, Salmen was back in, but that changed Thursday afternoon when the parents of the player ruled ineligible were granted a temporary restraining order that put the Houma-based Terriers back in the playoffs.
On Friday morning, LHSAA attorney Brad Lewis appealed the TRO granted in Houma and was rejected. Approximately 30 minutes before the scheduled 4:30 p.m. start time, the LHSAA won its appeal in Baton Rouge’s 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, which stated Houma’s 32nd Judicial District lacked jurisdiction to grant the TRO.
Vandebilt and St. Michael were both on the court just before 4 p.m. At that time, St. Michael coach Tami Reynolds-McClure was told that a game with Vandebilt could be stopped in progress and her team might have to play Salmen on either Saturday or Sunday in Lake Charles.
Both St. Michael and Vandebilt were subsequently pulled off the court. Reynolds-McClure said she was informed at 4:06 p.m. that her team’s opponent would be Salmen.
LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson said his staff had received word that someone also had obtained a TRO on behalf of Salmen to stop the St. Michael-Vandebilt game less than two minutes before the LHSAA’s appeal was granted.
“We had just heard about the TRO for Salmen,” Henderson said. “And about two minutes after that, we heard our appeal was granted. The thing I wish people would see from this is that they should leave LHSAA matters up to the schools. Neither school (Vandebilt or Salmen) fought the ruling we made.”
St. Michael had issues with what took place. The Baton Rouge school had appealed Salmen’s placement on the bracket because it took place less just less than 48 hours before game time, a decision that conflicted with the LHSAA’s bylaws. SMHS’ appeal was rejected by the LHSAA’s executive committee in a Thursday teleconference by a 13-6 margin.
Reynolds-McClure fought back tears before speaking in a postgame news conference.
“The whole situation stinks … it really does,” she said. “And I mean for all three teams. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. My girls should be commended for what they’ve had to go through for the past 48 hours. I’m very proud of these girls.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the game, but I really think we got shafted in this whole deal. I don’t want to take away from this game, but ultimately this is what it’s going to be remembered for. It’s unfortunate because it takes away from what this tournament stands for, which is the kids.”
If Salmen had any pregame jitters or concerns about the off-the-court proceedings, it didn’t show. With Pinchon and Brown combining for 25 first-half points, the Spartans built a 30-19 halftime lead.
St. Michael used some outside sharpshooting to keep it close in the early going. Beard, Alexandra Gaudet and Glynn O’Neill each had a 3-pointer in the first quarter, but Salmen still led 12-11 after the first eight minutes.
Taylor Morrison’s jumper gave St. Michael a 13-12 lead less than a minute into the second quarter. A jumper by Pinchon gave Salmen the lead back seconds later.
St. Michael did not score again until Beard made a 3-pointer at the 4:41 mark. At that point, Salmen led by three, at 19-16. Salmen then got a degree of separation by scoring the next seven points.
The third quarter started with a 12-2 Salmen run that included two baskets by Kalani Brown and a 3-pointer by Macy DeGruy. Reynolds-McClure called a timeout, but that did little to halt the Spartans’ momentum.
By the end of the third quarter, the Salmen lead was 52-28. The Spartans pushed their lead back to 29 points in the fourth quarter.
“We came out in a 1-2-2, and they were killing us on the sides,” Anderson said. “When things aren’t working on defense, you switch it. We went to a 2-3 zone, and the game changed. These young ladies played outstanding defense, and that’s what it’s about.”
Anderson declined comment on the legal wrangling, saying “We just kept our mind on the game. They played an outstanding game I thought.”