Central Catholic's Yani Johnson, right, works against a double team during Monday's playoff contest. (The Daily Review/Geoff Stoute)
Johnson's last-second bucket lifts CCHS to dramatic 54-53 victory
In a game in which No. 9 Highland Baptist devoted so much attention to limiting Central Catholic’s Yani Johnson, it was only fitting that Monday’s Division IV regional round girls basketball game literally would come down to a play involving the Central Catholic standout.
With the No. 8 seed Lady Eagles trailing Highland Baptist 53-52 with seconds remaining, Central Catholic seventh grader Laurielle Bias threw a pass three-quarters of the length down the court that Johnson hauled in while covered by Highland Baptist (12-9). She went up for a bucket and made it while being fouled with 3 seconds left.
Johnson missed the following free throw, and Highland Baptist took the ball down the court but was unable to score as the final buzzer sounded, capping a wild finish and clinching a quarterfinal berth for the Lady Eagles (11-17).
Johnson said her thoughts on the last play were she didn’t want the ball because she was being double-teamed the whole game.
“She threw the ball to me, and I was just like ‘oh, shoot!’ I just caught it, just followed my first instinct and went up,” Johnson said.
While it was a tough moment to handle, as the Lady Eagles’ leader, Johnson embraced it.
“In order to be a leader and to actually have girls look up to you, it’s a priority you have to take,” she said.
Central Catholic Assistant Coach Joe Jones said, “The one thing you tell Bias about making a pass to Yani is you throw it long and she has a chance. You through it short and she has no chance. She threw the ball high and long, which gives Yani a chance to go up and get the ball.”
The ending capped a close ballgame and a wild sequence to end the contest.
With the Lady Eagles ahead 52-51 late, Caitlyn Picou’s inbound pass near the scorer’s table was stolen by Highland Baptist, and Dusti Abshire was fouled with 8.6 seconds remaining. Abshire nailed two free throws for a 53-52 Highland Baptist lead before Bias’ and Johnson’s heroics.
Central Catholic now will continue postseason play Thursday when it travels to face another District 7-1A foe. This time, the Lady Eagles will meet two-time defending Division IV state champion and top seed Lafayette Christian at 6:30 p.m. in Lafayette. Lafayette Christian advanced after routing No. 16 St. Edmund 85-28.
While the game ended as a close one, Highland Baptist took control early on and looked as if it may run away with the contest, bolting out to a 12-2 lead in the first quarter en route to a 14-5 lead.
The visitors from New Iberia made every effort to limit Johnson’s performance, double teaming her or denying her passes in the post.
While the plan worked early on, the Central Catholic standout still finished the game with 29 points.
Jones said it’s difficult to stop Johnson when she is in motion because of her length and her wingspan, which he said is about 6-feet, 6-inches.
“You can contain her awhile, but you’re not going to completely stop her,” he said.
In the second period, Highland Baptist led by as much as nine points on three different occasions, the last for a 24-15 lead following a runner by Abshire with less than four minutes remaining.
However, Central Catholic outscored its District 7-1A foes 11-4 the remainder of the half, with Jalaysia Bertrand hitting about five seconds left to cut the Lady Eagles’ deficit to 28-26 at halftime.
“They outplayed us in the first half,” Jones said of Highland Baptist. “They really did, because they outhustled us.”
He said the Lady Eagles were fortunate to stay in the game early on before they gained confidence and got in a rhythm because Highland Baptist came out with momentum in addition to hustling.
“When those things happen, all you have to do is calm down, be patient, let it come to you and work the game. … You got to get the 50-50 balls, one thing, and you got to play better defense,” Jones said. “Second half, we did those things right there, so we got back into the game. Actually, late in the first, half, the second quarter, when we cut it to two points, we started playing much better.”
In the third period, Central Catholic took its first lead when Johnson grabbed an offensive rebound and had a put back with 4:44 remaining for a 33-32 Central Catholic advantage.
From there, the game never reached more than five points in either team’s favor the rest of the way.
In the fourth period, free-throw shooting helped Highland Baptist stay in the game as the squad connected on 9 of 14 attempts. However, as good as free-throw shooting was in the quarter, Highland Baptist finished 17-of-28 from the line for the game.
Bri Sensley led three Highland Baptist players in double figures with 15 points. Others in double figures were Abshire with 13 points and Marin Barras, 11.
Other Central Catholic scorers were Bertrand, nine; Bias, six; Picou, Sydney Williams and Lexi Landry, three each; and Rylie Theriot, one.
Williams and Caroline Green were honored for Senior Night prior to the contest.