WALKER — For 21/2 quarters Friday night, the young Denham Springs High girls basketball team was doing just enough to stay within striking distance of powerful Walker, never allowing the home team to stretch the lead into double figures.
Then again, what else would you expect between rival teams located just six miles apart and generally even closer in talent and grit?
But the more veteran Wildcats eventually pulled away, relying on their vaunted pressure defense to thwart the Yellow Jackets in a 62-39 win.
“All three years I’ve been here, whether we’ve been head-and-shoulders better or they’ve been, it’s always a lot of jitters — especially early on,” Walker coach Korey Arnold said.
Junior Keeona Brown led all scorers with 22 points, highlighted by a personal 6-0 run to finish the third quarter and give Walker (18-3, 2-0 in District 4-5A) a 48-32 lead. Seniors Jamie Gibson and Baylie Stears followed with 18 and 14 points,.
DSHS (7-11, 0-2 ) never led after Treasure Mansur’s 3-pointer gave Walker a 3-2 edge less than three minutes in, but the Yellow Jackets were still within seven points before Stears led a quick 7-0 run midway through the third quarter.
Twenty-five turnovers proved to be DSHS’ undoing.
“We were right where we wanted to be going into halftime,” DSHS coach Shelly LaPrarie said, “but then we started doing some things we hadn’t been doing and started letting them get those turnovers. We know that’s what they thrive on.”
Such inconsistent play is to be expected, LaPrarie said, from a team that relies on five sophomore starters and a freshman sixth man.
The Yellow Jackets had four senior starters last year on a team that reached the Class 5A semifinals.
“We talked about being patient and running our offense, and they saw for 21/2 quarters that it worked,” LaPrarie said. “We’ve got to learn to do that the entire time and not panic.”
Sophomore Payton Chustz with 16 points was the Yellow Jackets’ lone double-figure scorer.
Stears, a Southeastern Louisiana signee, shined early for Walker with nine first-quarter points. Brown had 10 of her points in the third quarter, then added two more to give Walker a 50-32 edge at the start of the fourth.
Play stopped momentarily in the first quarter when Gibson scored on a drive to the basket and was recognized for reaching 1,000 career points.
Arnold said the effectiveness of point guard Kacie Fountain was limited by a knee injury suffered earlier in the week, contributing to the slow start. Walker’s biggest lead of the first half was nine points.
“She wasn’t the same kid tonight, but she was strong enough to get us in what we needed to be in and do just enough,” Arnold said.