Lakeview topples St. James, to meet Riverside for 2A title _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- St. James' Raylen Kennedy jumps for a basket during the class 2A semifinal against Lakeview on Thursday in Lake Charles.

LAKE CHARLES — David vs. Goliath references about sports events have become clichés because they’ve been used so much.

But it worked perfectly for St. James basketball coach James Smith after his 14th-seeded team lost to No. 2 Lakeview 81-58 in a Class 2A semifinal at the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Boys Top 28 Tournament.

“We just ran out of rocks,” Smith quipped.

And the Wildcats (20-13) ran into a team with plenty of firepower Thursday afternoon at Burton Coliseum.

“Like Dennis Green said, ‘They were who we thought they were,’ ” Smith said of Lakeview. “They are the No. 2 team in the state of Louisiana. That says a lot about them and their program.

“I thought early on we were our own worst enemy with the mistakes we made. We missed easy layups, but that’s all a part of the game. A lot of problems we had were because of them.”

Tay Hardy finished with a game-high 28 points, making 8 of 15 from the field and 10 of 12 from the free-throw line for Campti-based Lakeview (28-4), which advances to play top-seeded Riverside Academy (32-3) in the 2A final set for 6 p.m. Saturday.

Brent Toussaint added 10 for the Gators, who had three other players finish with nine points. Brothers Jason Favorite (16) and Jonathon Favorite (11) led St. James, a Top 28 team for the first time since 2001. The Wildcats knocked out two higher seeds, No. 3 Dunham and No. 6 Episcopal, en route to the tourney.

“This is a dream come true for our program,” Lakeview coach Joshua Hancock said. “Last year we fell short. We lost in the quarterfinals to University, and after that game, one of things we talked about was working hard for this year. These guys have really bought in and worked extremely hard.”

It wasn’t just the intensity of the effort that set Lakeview apart. The Gators typically choose to flip their zone defense by putting the 6-foot-4 Toussaint and other tall players at the top of the defense instead of under the goal.

The ploy was extremely effective. St. James made just 32 percent of its shots (25 of 77) and also had 24 turnovers, some of which led to quick baskets for Lakeview, which made 49 percent of its shots (29 of 59).

“Coach told us to come out fast and that’s our pace,” Hardy said.

The Gators did come out fast, racing to an 18-3 first-quarter lead. But St. James finished the quarter on an 8-0 run to make it 18-11. A basket by Jarel Joseph got the Wildcats two points closer.

Enter Lakeview and another 10-0 run. The Gators led by as much as 13 points in the quarter and had a 36-27 halftime lead.

St. James scored first in the second half and got the lead down to seven, but a 6-0 Lakeview run extended the lead to 10 points quickly. The Gators added a little more separation with 1:39 left in the third quarter. Toussaint scored on a layup and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but teammate Charles Browder scooped up the rebound and scored to make it 53-38.

Hancock’s Lakeview squad kept the pedal to the metal in the fourth quarter, using a 20-4 to put the game well beyond St. James’ reach.

Smith praised his players for their efforts, noting the SJHS football team’s run to the Class 3A quarterfinals last fall.

“This game we didn’t play our game, we played Lakeview’s tempo,” senior D’Kwan Sandolph said. “Most teams can’t say they’ve made it this far.”