ST. AMANT - It looked like a typical early season boys basketball tournament game.
East Ascension High School raced out to a big lead. Then, the Spartans held off a fourth-quarter challenge en route to a 61-48 victory over Hammond to help open the Ralph Sellers Gold Dome Classic on Wednesday night.
St. Amant coach Gary Duhe gave fans the first clue that the win was anything but ordinary for East Ascension coach Kenny Almond when he immediately grabbed the microphone and game ball.
Duhe commemorated Almond’s 800th career varsity win by presenting the EAHS coach with the game ball.
“More than 30 years ago a young man got into coaching,” Duhe said. “It didn’t matter whether he was at Baker Junior High, Central, Lee High, Woodlawn or East Ascension.
“Kenny Almond’s teams have always won, and he’s always done it the right way. He’s one of the best coaches the state of Louisiana has ever seen.”
It was a picture-perfect moment for several spectators who came out of the stands.
Almond, ever focused on the task at hand, deflected credit to others, including his current team and former players. With the win, Almond has a career record of 800-366.
Jarcarda Hawkins finished with a game-high 24 points and DeAndre Smith added 12 to help East Ascension (4-0) remain unbeaten. Austen Sanders led Hammond (2-2) with 11 points. EAHS advances to play Airline in a second-round game set for 8:30 p.m. Thursday at St. Amant’s Gold Dome.
“It’s that 3-point thing,” said Almond, who is in his 36th season as a varsity coach. “This is the first group that maybe I have ever coached that lives on that a little bit.
“They look good when they’re going in. When they don’t, you start to wonder why you’re shooting them. We used our defense to get a lead. But they (the Tornadoes) can make threes, too, so they came back on us. We’re happy to get the win.”
It was a night for one milestone and a path toward another. Duhe, Almond’s longtime friend and rival, has 698 wins after a 54-47 win over Lutcher and is just two wins shy of 700.
When asked to talk about his 800th win, Almond paused briefly.
“It means something,” Almond said. “It means something for me because of guys like Dale Jones at Baker Junior High, Sonny Jackson at Central, Bobby Meador and Jim Keaton at Lee High. They hired me and gave me a chance.
“Then Mr. (Paul) Loupe and Harry Ingalls, along with John McCann at Woodlawn were there along the way. Cornell Bourgeois helped me get to East Ascension.
“More than anything else this is about the players and all the assistant coaches. They made it possible. If you coach 100 years, you get here.”
The Spartans ran out to a 10-4 lead to start the game. Hammond got within six at 15-9, before EAHS scored the final six points of the first quarter.
East Ascension led by as much as 16 points in the second period. A jumper in the lane by DeVonte Fisher made it 27-11 with 3:39 left in the half.
The Spartans led 30-19 at halftime and then proceeded to increase their lead to as much as 22 points in the third quarter.
EAHS led 50-34 going into the fourth quarter. Hammond rallied to cut the lead to nine points, but got no closer.
“We’re young this year, and we just didn’t shoot the ball well,” Hammond coach Brent Grigas said. “We had good looks; we just didn’t make them. They’re a good deal and (No.) 55 (Hawkins) is a very good high school player.
“I didn’t have any idea he (Almond) was going for 800. He’s a great friend of my family. It couldn’t happen to a better guy.”