By LARRY HYMEL, Special to the Journal
HAMMOND – Burdened by heavy hearts, the Huntington Lady Raiders showed lots of courage, but despite an inspired effort, they couldn’t derail top-ranked Warren Easton in the semifinals of the LHSAA Class 4A girls basketball tournament Thursday.
The disappointment after the 59-55 loss paled in comparison to the shock and pain of finding out less than an hour before tipoff that Huntington boys’ basketball player Devin Myers had been shot and killed back home, off campus.
The Lady Raiders fought resolutely and with passion, led by Kalea Dean’s 27-point, 12-rebound performance. Rebounding, coaches say, is a reflection of effort. Huntington owned a 45-33 advantage on the boards. Along with Dean’s dozen, Joycelyn Bell and Ka’Niya Moore each snatched five. Shuntiana Ellis issued a team-best five assists.
“We did everything we could under the circumstances,” coach Brian Shyne said. “I’m proud of them, not for a win or loss, but for fighting so hard. I tried to keep the news from them before the game, but one player found out and I had to tell all of them.”
“I am still so proud of them and their effort,” he reiterated.
Warren Easton (15-7) was led by Imani Rothschild’s 18 points and Kamryn Washington, who had 13. The Lady Eagles sealed it at the free throw line where they sank 22 of 32. A dozen of those came in the final period as they protected their advantage.
The game was close throughout. Easton led 7-5 at the end of the first quarter and 21-18 at the half, holding Dean to just six points.
Dean carried them in the second half.
“She just put the team on her back as she has all season,” Shyne said.
She had 21 points and eight rebounds in the final two quarters. The margin stayed close, no more narrow than twice in the middle of the fourth period — first when Dean cut it to 46-45 by hitting two free throws with 5:41 left, and then when Nijeh Grant’s bucket made it 48-47 with 4:08 left.
But both times, the winners replied to stay ahead.
When Warren Easton padded the lead to 52-47 with just over three minutes remaining, the finalists started draining the clock and attempted only one field goal — that on a breakaway layup — scoring their last seven points from the charity stripe.
Dean had five points in the last 22 seconds to trim the final margin to 59-55.
Warren Easton, which beat Huntington in the semifinals 65-62 two years ago, will face Crescent City rival Ellender, a 56-44 winner over Bastrop, in Saturday’s championship game.
With a 15-game winning streak snapped, the Lady Raiders finished with a 20-7 record, and a third straight Marsh Madness appearance by a team that exceeded outside expectations.