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BOBBY ARDOIN

Editor/Consulting Writer

J.S. Clark Leadership Academy displayed an aggressive mindset early and eventually seized control Friday afternoon, as the Bulldogs captured the girls Division V select basketball championship at the Southeastern Louisiana University Center.

The 67-45 victory over top-seed and defending champion Oak Hill provided the first basketball title in school history, as No. 2 Clark ended a 2023-24 season 26-3 after finishing as runner-up last year.

Bulldogs’ point guard Taylor Barnaba was named the game’s MVP. Barnaba scored 18 points and added eight steals and six assists.

The effort from Barnaba was supported by Clark’s Akeelah Williams (12 rebounds) and Tristinie Albert who added 13 points. Williams and Barnaba were a combined 13-of-23 from the field, while Erianna Ned provided extra rebounding assistance.

Overall the Bulldogs made 26 of 47 field goal attempts (55 percent) and outrebounded the Rams (41-31).

Alex Dryer scored 28 and added 12 rebounds for the Rams.

Handling Business

Oak Hill defeated the Bulldogs for the 2023 title, but Clark head basketball coach Ross Rix said it was evident that this time, his players wanted to demonstrate early that they were not intimidated, said Rix.

“We wanted to come out in an attacking mode, be aggressive and show that we were not scared of them. I thought we handled that well. I have to give credit to the girls (on Friday) and during the season. We were in the same position (on Friday) as we were last year when we were just excited to be here. This time we showed we were here for business,” said Rix.

Taking Control

Clark however trailed Oak Hill (28-13) at different points early during the first half, but the Bulldogs ended the first half with seven unanswered second quarter points before starting the final two periods with a 15-2 run.

The Rams continued applying various forms of defensive pressure, but No. 2 Clark sank back into a late-game zone defense and led by as many as 20 points (49-29) as the game headed towards a conclusion.

In the second half Clark sank 13 of 20 field goal attempts.

The Early Phases

Despite their early attempt at demonstrating a dominant posture, Rix added that Clark and Oak Hill battled for the early advantage.

“It was kind of back and forth early. We were up by five at the half, but in the third quarter, we didn’t allow (Oak Hill) any field goals. In the second half, we took away some things from the point and we played more zone after starting with pressure,” said Rix.

Avoiding The Shoot Out

What the Bulldogs successfully avoided, said Rix, was attempting to outscore Oak Hill.

The Rams scored a combined 159 points in their quarterfinal and semifinal games.

“We looked at that and decided we couldn’t win if we were going to outscore them. We didn’t want to give them any quick baskets. If we could do that, we felt we could run some clock and keep the score in the 50’s and 60’s,” Rix pointed out.

Offensively the Bulldogs penetrated the Oak Hill defense, using an extra pass in order to distribute the ball more effectively to Barnaba.

This was also the first career state championship for Rix, who will coach the Clark boys team next week in the Top 28 Tournament.

“I’ve been at this a long time, with 13 of those years in high school coaching. I’m excited, but most of all, I’m excited for our school and the community,” said Rix.