LAKE CHARLES —White Castle High girls basketball coach Tammy Pierce pushed her team to success all season by telling them the amount of fight in the dog mattered more than its size.
The scrappy Bulldogs took their coach’s mantra seriously and forced 19 turnovers. They fought back from a 17-point deficit in the third quarter and got to within five points in the fourth.
But second-seeded Vermilion Catholic had just enough height and savvy experience to net a 57-46 victory over sixth-seeded White Castle in a Class 1A semifinal game that closed out the first day the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Top 28 tournament.
“All year we’ve been able to run and hop on teams early,” WCHS coach Tammy Pierce said. “We’ve been able to take the ball (inside). Tonight, we didn’t execute our offense very well.
“But overall, I’m proud of the girls for not giving up. They fought to the end. They listened to everything we wanted them to do. It’s a great outstanding season. … I love them, and regardless of the outcome, I think they’re all winners.”
But second-seeded VCHS (26-4) got the coveted victory and advances to play top-seeded North Central (29-3) in the title game set for 2 p.m. Saturday. The Eagles won the 1A title in 2013 and are making history by advancing to the title game for second time in three seasons.
White Castle (22-11) made its first Top 28 appearance since 2010. The Bulldogs wanted to commemorate the 10th anniversary of their 2005 1A title with another state crown. Twins Skylar and Shylar O’Bear led the way for WCHS. Skylar O’Bear scored a game-high 25 points, while Shylar O’Bear added 14 points, including two fourth-quarter 3-pointers.
Vermilion Catholic’s size and balanced was a big part of the story. So was the fact that WCHS made just 16.7 of its shots from the field in the first half while falling behind 26-13.
Ashailee Brailey finished with a team-high 21 points and 11 rebounds for Vermilion Catholic, while 6-foot post player Kaylen Collins added 17 points and a game-high 15 rebounds. Collins, who is four inches taller than White Castle’s tallest player, altered shots in the lane all night.
Brailey and Lexi Langlinais, who finished with 11 points, helped seal the deal when White Castle closed within five at 36-31 with 5:26 remaining after a jumper by Skylar O’Bear. The Bulldogs failed to capitalize on their next turnover.
That’s when VCHS countered. Collins made one of two free throws 5:11 mark. Leah Camel rebounded Collins’ missed free throw and passed to Brailey who sank a jumper from the left corner. At the 4:44 mark Langlinais took a pass from Brailey and made a 3-pointer from the left corner, increasing VCHS’ lead to 42-31. White Castle never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.
“They made quick passes on the inside,” Skylar O’Bear said. “We could get the ball over their hands but … I just don’t know (what happened).”
Vermilion Catholic coach Kim Guidry called the victory a matter of survival, noting that several players on the team have had the flu.
“I think we’re excited to be where we’re at,” VCHS coach Kim Guidry said. “We knew White Castle had those super twins and we were hoping to slow them down.
“Our kids played hard. We’re coming off the flu. Three of the five starters had it Monday. This was just trying to play 32 minutes as hard as you can.”
The fact that Vermilion Catholic made 14 of 20 second-half free throws also was crucial because White Castle was forced to foul while playing catch-up in the fourth quarter.
The teams exchanged turnovers and missed shots in the opening minutes as they worked out some jitters. WCHS’ Ashante Knight broke the ice by scoring on a layup with 6:12 left in the first quarter. Vermilion Catholic soon took control. The Eagles scored the 12 of the final 16 points and took a 12-6 lead into the second quarter.
VCHS’ height advantage and poised style made the going tougher for White Castle. The Bulldogs made 5 of 30 from the field. It was more of the same early in the third quarter. Vermilion Catholic stretched its lead to 17 points at 32-15 on layup by Collins with 4:58 left.
White Castle scored 13 of the final 17 points in the quarter and cut the VCHS lead to eight at 36-28 after three quarters. The Bulldogs kept whittling away at the VCHS lead by forcing a series of turnovers.
“We’ve made those shots before,” WCHS’ Pierce said. “With a great team like that every turnover you get you have to score. Still, I’m proud of my team.”