Moments after St. Michael the Archangel’s 52-39 Class 4A state quarterfinal victory over DeRidder at home Monday night, the players for the Warriors who finished out the game were engulfed in a sea of red.
Before the entire team could rejoice in its second trip to the state semifinals in three years, a jubilant student body had already spilled onto the court — where the Warriors posted a 13-1 record — to begin celebrating.
“We were hoping to go on the road the second round, and it gave us a huge advantage this round being at home,” St. Michael coach Tami Reynolds-McClure said. “Just for the nerves and the sixth man, which is our crowd. It just helps you in so many ways. It’s that comfort zone.”
St. Michael (32-4) won its eighth straight game, setting up a likely return to Southeastern Louisiana’s University Center to meet No. 3 Vandebilt Catholic, a 48-44 winner over No. 6 Salmen, in the LHSAA’s Top 28 regional semifinal. The site, day and time for the game won’t be announced until after Tuesday’s boys quarterfinals.
While senior guard and University of Louisiana-Monroe signee Journee Beard of led all scorers with 19 points, St. Michael’s hallmark of scoring balance was present from the rest of the starters, ranging from seven to nine points.
Even greater, though, was the effort St. Michael’s undersized defense put forth, limiting DeRidder (24-9) to 38 percent shooting and forcing the Dragons into 27 turnovers.
“We’re not a good outside shooting team,” said DeRidder coach Tammie Gibson, whose team lost in the quarterfinals for the second straight year. “We rely on going inside and tried to force some passes that weren’t there. They’re a good team, and I wish them luck.”
Reynolds-McClure commended Alexandra Gaudet and Taylor Morrison for their contributions in guarding DeRidder’s 6-foot-1 post player Pre’Franz Dominick and fellow 5-11 post Tia Youngblood.
That combination teamed for 35 points in DeRidder’s regional win over St. Louis but thanks to St. Michael’s ability to give help on the entry pass into the post Dominick (12) and Youngblood (10) were limited to 22 points, nine of which came in the last three minutes with the Warriors leading, 48-30.
St. Michael went on a 20-6 run after the game’s only tie at 4-all and opened a 24-10 advantage with 4:19 until halftime. Taylor Morrison (eight rebounds, four steals) and Glynn O’Neill (five rebounds) scored seven points apiece during that stretch.
DeRidder, which had 10 turnovers in the opening quarter, pulled to within 24-20 on back-to-back three-point plays from Briane’ Miller only to have Tyler Morrison stop the surge with a free throw and O’Neill beat the buzzer with a putback.
St. Michael’s lead dwindled to five points, 32-27, midway through the third quarter, when a 15-foot baseline jumper from Gaudet ignited what turned into a 16-3 blitz that resulted in a 48-30 lead and carried over into the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
Beard had 10 of her team’s 16 in that run. St. Michael missed its last eight shots of the game but Beard made six straight free throws to secure the win.
“It’s so special,” Reynolds-McClure said. “We have seven senior players and two senior managers. It was disappointing to lose in the second round last year to Broadmoor. To get back to the Final Four and finish on this high note, you can’t ask for anything more as a senior.”