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District Champions

Lady Bearcats cap off Senior Night with 2-5A title
Friday, February 9, 2024
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Leader photo by Matt Belinson

The Ruston Lady Bearcats (22-7, 5-0) capped off their regular season with an undefeated District 2-5A title and a 39-29 win over rival West Monroe Friday evening.

The win gave Ruston its first district title since the 2021-22 season, and it was only fitting the seniors that were there the last time the program was on top of the District standings would close our their careers with one more accomplishment.

Ruston's three leading scorers were all seniors, including Jaliyah McWain who put up 10 points, 8 coming in the second half, to go with 4 assists, 4 steals, and 4 rebounds.

Zaccheya Jackson finished with 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals, while Aakeyliah Jones scored 8 points.

"Number one, this senior class as a whole have done so much for our program,” Ruston girl's basketball coach Meredith Graf said postgame. “They're the people that are the foundation to me that have really helped shift us into the next kind of gear as far as our program goes. And that's invaluable. It really is.”

Ruston came out of the looking engaged and in a groove, leading 6-1 with four minutes to go in the opening frame. But as Ruston began to miss open shots and rush into offense, West Monroe took advantage and ended the quarter on a 7-0 run to lead 8-6.

Midway through the second period, the Lady Bearcats reclaimed their lead and were in control 14-10 after a smooth three pointer by Jackson. But rebounding proved difficult for Ruston as West Monroe got multiple second-chance opportunities over the final five minutes that led to the visitors taking a brief 17-14 lead.

After Ruston got to within 17-16, Jackson was fouled on a made layup and swished her free-throw attempts to give Ruston a 19-17 lead at the break.

“Give West Monroe credit," Graf said. "They have some really good height and they play really tough. They mix up their defenses and so it kind of kept us off our rhythm a little bit. And that's to be expected. That lends to their strengths and tries to slow us down a bit. But overall, I think it was a wonderful night. A wins's a win. And to be able to recognize our kids the way that we were able to tonight, it's special and you just want to soak it up and appreciate them for who they are.”

The third quarter was the deciding point as Ruston got to playing within its best combination of turning defense into offense, specifically with Jackson and McWain snatching steals and sprinting the other way for transition layups. The flurry of West Monroe turnovers into Ruston points gave the Lady Bearcats a 10-2 run for nearly five minutes. By the end of the third, Ruston had its biggest lead of the game up 31-23.

“Getting those transition buckets, that gets our motor running and when we can do that it seems to fast-forward our process of what we're capable of doing and what our strengths are," Graf said. "I was really pleased with that.”

The fourth quarter didn't prove much better for West Monroe as the Rebels managed 23 total points and 23 turnovers with five minutes left in the contest.

Ruston will await its playoff pairing Monday when LHSAA announces brackets.