Port Allen High School basketball coach Brandon Ricard turned to the cheering section of fans behind his team’s bench and threw his up arms with clenched fists in celebration.
Not only did the 62-57 victory Friday at Pennington-McKernan Gymnasium represent Port Allen’s fifth straight win over University High, but the road triumph put the Pelicans in a tie for second in District 7-3A behind West Feliciana (3-0).
“I don’t want people to think this was the district championship,” Ricard said. “The district is just getting started and it’s a long road. I like to refer to this district as the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) of high school basketball. On any given night, anybody can beat you if you don’t come ready to play.”
Port Allen (13-6, 3-1) took a 47-46 lead into the fourth quarter and never relinquished it.
The Pelicans led 54-49 with 4:46 to play on Nick Parker’s driving layup and held off one final surge from the Cubs to turn the league into a wide-open race.
Leading scorer Wayde Sims scored four of his team-high 23 points and guard John Jones’ spinning bank shot drew U-High (19-4, 3-1) to within 56-55 with 1:45 to go.
The teams traded baskets over the next 30 seconds before Port Allen, which went 14-of-17 from the free-throw line, pulled away with four straight free throws from Parker and Nigel Allen.
Parker led a balanced Port Allen scoring effort with 23 points while Telson Allen added 14. Nigel Allen, who attended University’s Lab school where he played basketball until middle school, added 10.
“I don’t know if we ran out of a little gas maybe being short with the bench,” U-High coach Joe Spencer said, noting his team played without starter D.J. White. “But they did a good job of running their offense. I was impressed with more than Parker’s scoring, but his ability find the big guys inside.”
U-High, which shot 38 percent, had an opportunity to take the lead with 47 seconds left after a steal, but Skylar Mays couldn’t get his reverse layup to fall. The Cubs then attempted to tie the game at 60-all. Sims missed on a 3-point attempt from the top of the key with 13 seconds left.
Mays was the Cubs’ only other double-digit scorer with 18 points.
“It’s a common misconception that kids from Port Allen aren’t as tough as Baton Rouge kids,” Ricard said. “We are tough. We’re not going fear anybody, but we respect everybody and we’re going to give you our best on that particular night.”
Port Allen, rated fourth in the LHSAA power ratings, made Ricard’s point abundantly clear by trading the lead with No. 1 U-High five times during a three-minute span for a 17-16 first-quarter lead.
Midway through the second quarter the Pelicans, who shot 54 percent in the half, opened up its largest lead of the game at 32-21 on Parker’s 3-pointer and held a 34-27 halftime edge.
Five consecutive baskets from U-High enabled the Cubs to erase that deficit and take a 42-40 lead — their first in almost 13 minutes of play — when Jones fed Sims inside for a lay-in.
Parker’s reverse layup ended his team’s 0-for-7 drought without a field goal and Sims’ tip-in and subsequent free throws a minute later tied the game (46-46) for the fifth time.
“We had a chance after a steal but we missed a layup and they came down and scored and it was back a two-possession game,” Spencer said. “They did a great job of finishing out the game.”