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Wildcats hold on in 3A opener


North Vermillion's Donald Comeaux (35) and St. James' Owen Mumphrey (11) battle for rebound in Tuesday's Class 3A bi-district playoff game in St. James.


ST. JAMES — The St. James Wildcats may have left their game in the locker room at the start of the third quarter, but the Wildcats found it just in time in the fourth quarter.

St. James used a 23-1 second-quarter run to seize control of Tuesday's Class 3A bi-district playoff game with a 19-point halftime lead against North Vermilion.

The Wildcats eventually pushed its lead to 24 points in the third quarter, but North Vermilion wouldn't go away.

The Patriots took advantage of the Wildcats' miscues to go on a 24-4 run and make it a four-point game with 6:45 left to play. But, St. James settled down and found its offensive rhythm again to come away with a 67-56 win .

St. James, the No. 14 seed, will travel to play Farmerville, the No. 3 seed, on Friday with the time of the Class 3A regional playoff game yet to be determined. Farmerville reached the regionals by beating Avoyelles, the No. 30 seed, 80-58.

St. James coach James Smith said maybe some of his players relaxed with a big lead, but they should have learned a lesson that no lead is safe in the playoffs.

"We weren't celebrating early, and we definitely didn't do that at halftime. We told them we only won the first half, and we had to win the second half to win the ball game. We didn't play the same level on defense and we forgot to cover the help side," Smith said. "I don't know if we celebrated early, but we stopped working on defense and (North Vermilion) just kept fighting. They have some good guards, and we kind of stumbled and lost our rhythm it seemed like. We were lucky at the end to get it back."

North Vermilion, the No. 19 seed, led 12-9 after the first quarter and took its last lead of the game at 17-14 when Kenneth Johnson stole the ball and made a layup with 6:22 left in the second quarter.

Jared Wiggins (12 points) provided a spark for the Wildcats scoring five points in a 22-second span and giving St. James the lead for good at 19-17 when he converted a three-point play with 5:37 on the clock.

Those points from Wiggins are what started the Wildcats' 23-1 run. St. James (21-6 overall) took advantage of 14 second-quarter turnovers by the Patriots (19-6) to take its first double-digit lead at 29-18 after Jason Favorite (15 points) scored with 3:50 on the clock.

Owen Mumphrey Jr. (11 points) added a basket and two free throws for the 37-18 lead with 1:59 to play, but North Vermilion's Mike Bessard halted the run by making a basket for a 37-20 score with 1:33 left before halftime.

The Wildcats went to hold a 42-23 halftime lead, outscoring North Vermilion 33-11 in the second quarter.

A quick 5-0 spurt to start in the third quarter gave St. James its largest lead off the game at 47-23 with 6:29 on the clock.

It was at that point when North Vermilion stopped committing turnovers and started making shots putting pressure on St. James' defense. The Patriots outscored St. James 17-4 for the rest of the third quarter to make it a 51-40 game to start the fourth.

North Vermilion started the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run to make the score 51-47 with 6:45 left to play. Bessard (19 points) converted a three-point play to put the Patriots to within four points of the Wildcats.

After Bessard's bucket, North Vermilion missed two layups that would've made it a two-point game, but St. James cleared the rebound and Favorite was fouled. He made both free throws to put St. James in front 53-47, and beginning a 12-1 run by the Wildcats that ended with a bucket from Andre Mitchell (12 points) and a 63-48 lead with 2:46 left.

In the final two minutes, North Vermilion missed several easy shots as St. James went on for the 67-56 win.

North Vermillion coach Jack Leblanc said his team used a lot of energy to get back into the game and fatigue probably played a factor in the fourth quarter.

"The two things we talked about was handling their pressure and rebounding. I thought we did a good job in the first quarter and we knocked down shots. We had some unforced turnovers, but we missed shots and they were hitting, and that is when they went on that run," Leblanc said. "I think our guys battled so hard to come back and cut it to four points. It was an unbelievable effort, but in those last four minutes my guys were spent and we gave up some easy baskets. That was more fatigue then us being out of position."

Wiggins said it took some time but the Wildcats found their intensity in the second half to win the game.

"We had a lax on defense and we stopped playing team ball. We had guys start jacking up shots. I talked to them in the fourth quarter and I told them we didn't want to be out in the first round," Wiggins said. "We started to play harder and we started to play our help defense, and we turned it up a notch in that fourth quarter."