An emotional celebration followed the Walker High boys’ 46-45 victory over rival Denham Springs on Saturday night in the championship game of the Blount General Contractors Livingston Parish tournament.
Were the Wildcats so excited because they had won the annual parish tournament for only the fourth time in 30 years?
Or because they had overcome a six-point deficit in the final 45 seconds to score the nail-biting win?
“Both,” coach Anthony Schiro said. “Those guys are excited for both reasons.”
Walker trailed Denham by 12 points after the first quarter and by nine at halftime, but steadily chipped away until Darius Hampton’s game-winning lay-up, with two seconds left, provided the Wildcats their first lead since the opening three minutes.
With that, five days of basketball at Live Oak High saw the parish’s nine participating schools combine to play 24 games.
The other big winners Saturday were the Denham Springs girls, who handled Holden 46-36 in the tournament’s first championship game.
Coach Shelly LaPrarie, of Denham Springs, took home her seventh parish title since 2004 after the Yellow Jackets were ousted in the first round of the tournament last year.
WALKER BOYS 46, DENHAM SPRINGS 45: Denham Springs guard Mitch Wilkerson scored 15 points on five 3-pointers as the Yellow Jackets controlled the first half but was held scoreless in the second half as Walker made its run.
As a team, Denham managed only one point (on a free throw) in the third quarter as Walker crept within 33-31 going into the fourth.
But the Yellow Jackets still had a 45-39 lead before Josh Cook scored on a third-chance putback with 44 seconds left and was fouled. Cook missed the ensuing free throw, but another Walker rebound led to a Dalton Moore 3-pointer from the top of the key.
And just like that, the deficit was one point.
On the game-winning basket, Hampton made a backdoor cut to get the ball back from Jalen Perkins in the post and scored under the basket.
“I told the kids this was going to be a game of spurts,” Denham Springs coach Kevin Caballero said. “We had our spurts early, but you’ve got to credit Walker. They fought them off, then came back in the second half and had their own spurts.”
In winning the tournament for the first time since 2010, Walker snapped Denham’s streak of four straight parish championships.
The Wildcats did it without guard Jacobi Scott, who served an automatic one-game suspension Saturday after being ejected during Friday’s semifinals. Scott is the only junior on a team that dresses just one senior.
“You hate for something like that to have to happen to rally around,” Schiro said of Scott’s suspension, “but our guys really toughened up and we had some young guys step up and become leaders.”
Cook, a sophomore, scored all 12 of his points in the second half to help fuel the comeback.
“For that group being as young as they are to battle back, that’s something they’ll always remember and I’ll always remember,” Schiro said. “The Livingston Parish tournament is tradition. When you win it, it’s something to be proud of.”
In the third-place game, the Albany boys defeated host Live Oak 46-42.
Dylan Hoyt with 15 points, Sean Sykes with 15 and Quincy Sykes with 10 combined for 40 of Albany’s 46 points. Joshua Reams and Joe Bergeron combined for 32 of Live Oak’s 42.
DENHAM SPRINGS GIRLS 46, HOLDEN 36: Tremeeka Spikes scored a game-high 15 points to lead a Denham Springs post game that was too physical for its Class B opponent.
The Yellow Jackets built an early 11-2 lead and never trailed.
“We just buckled down,” LaPrarie said. “We know with our size, we can be as physical as anybody in the state when we want to be.”
Holden went on a quick 8-0 run to make it an 18-17 game with 3:41 left in the first half, but the Yellow Jackets regained control in short order and built the lead back to 27-19 going into halftime.
“Denham Springs is a very good team — a very good 5A team,” Holden coach Pam Forbes said. “We never could get the momentum going our way. We’d have something good happen, then something bad. But we won’t play anybody else that physical. Nobody’s going to have the post players they do.”
LaPrarie said the Yellow Jackets were motivated by last year’s first-round ousting and wanted to show they will once again be a team to watch.
Denham’s roster was composed mostly of sophomores last season.
“In the past we’ve always been able to look back at the parish tournament and how we played in the parish tournament as how we played throughout the year,” LaPrarie said. “The years we didn’t do well in the parish tournament, we ended up not doing well in the playoffs.”
In the third-place game, Albany upended Walker 40-36.
The Hornets sealed the win at the free-throw line, making 9 of 17 foul shots in the fourth quarter.
Schiro was on the winning side in the parish tournament for the fourth time, having played on the Walker team that won the title in 1995 and coached Albany to the championship in 2005 and Walker in 2010.
Denham Springs has won seven parish championships in girls basketball since 2004 and Walker has won five. No other team has won the girls tournament during that time.
Albany will host the annual tournament next year followed by Denham Springs in 2017.