Rayville High School was forced to watch from the sideline as members of their district were crowned champions of Class 3A four of the past six seasons.
On Friday night, the Hornets (31-2) clinched their opportunity to carry on the District 2-3A tradition.
In front of a raucous crowd at De La Salle on Friday night, Jamarion Johnson swatted away a potential game-tying layup with one second left to clinch a 70-68 win over the Cavaliers and send Rayville to the Boys Top 28 for the first time since 2004.
“I’m just proud to represent Rayville, my community and the district,” Rayville coach Damon West said. “It’s big for us ... we stayed with our defense, and that got us out like it’s been doing all year.”
Johnson led the way for the Hornets with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field to go along with 11 rebounds and three blocks. Khamod Naylor and C’Anthony Murphy also chipped in 14 and 13, respectively.
The Hornets will advance to the Class 3A semifinals to play No.3 John Curtis at the Burton Coliseum on Thursday.
“It feels good, it feels real good,” Johnson said. “My teammates came out, played ball and did what we had to do to win.”
De La Salle (24-6) struggled to get out of their own way in the fourth quarter, turning the ball over five times and missing seven free throws, which put the Hornets in prime position to grab control of the game.
The Cavaliers fought to keep themselves within striking distance, and had two opportunities to tie or take the lead in the final 20 seconds of the game, but came up short on both opportunities.
“Hats off to Rayville, they play a certain style, and in the playoffs you only have a certain amount of time to prepare,” said De La Salle coach Paul Kelly. “They have size and athleticism that you really can’t prepare for unless you’ve played them earlier.”
After missing six of his seven three-point attempts in the first half, De La Salle guard Stephen Kelly re-ignited the Cavaliers crowd by knocking down his first two threes to open the second half and assisting on another Cavaliers basket.
Two possessions later, Troy Nisby’s layup gave De La Salle its first lead of the second half and they remained ahead for nearly the rest of the period.
Rayville’s Zach Smith dropped in a 3-pointer that temporarily gave the Hornets a two-point lead.
in the final minute of the quarter, but De La Salle forward ended the frame with a personal 5-0 run that gave his team a 58-55 lead heading into the fourth.
“We play at a fast pace and we just wanted to make them play the style we like to play,” Murphy said. “They’re a really good team and they made it tough on us, but we played hard and did what the coaches told us. I’m just happy we got the win.”
After both teams went back and forth in an evenly-matched first quarter, the Hornets came out and scored the first two baskets of the second and remained one step ahead of the Cavaliers the rest of the quarter, partially because of their relentless transition offense.
Rayville went on an 8-1 run midway through the frame to grow their lead to 37-29 after a Zach Smith runner, but the Cavaliers found their groove offensively and cut their deficit to 39-35 heading into halftime.