WALKER — After grabbing an early lead, Walker High fell behind rival Denham Springs. The Wildcats managed to tie it a couple of times, but the fifth-ranked Yellow Jackets found ways to stay on top.
Until the final 4:55 of the game. Walker forced seven turnovers and held Denham Springs scoreless in the final minutes to rally for a 37-36 victory in District 4-5A girls basketball action Tuesday night.
“In the first half, I thought we were a step slow in everything we were doing on defense,” Walker coach Korey Arnold said. “The last half, especially the last four minutes, we turned up the intensity. We didn’t change anything. We just turned up the intensity level.”
Mi’ca Lowe and Baylie Stears combined to score all 11 fourth-quarter points for the Wildcats (20-5, 4-0), who are the only remaining unbeaten in 4-5A. Lowe finished with a game-high 16 points and Stears scored five of her seven points in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead layup with 1:49 remaining.
Katie Patterson led Denham Springs (17-5, 3-1) with 10 points. Brianna Ensminger and Carlisha Kinchen each had seven for DSHS.
There was plenty of late drama. After Walker took the lead, Denham Springs was forced to foul. Stears missed the front end of a one-and-one with 11.7 seconds left, allowing Denham Springs one final shot. But Caletra Curtis’ jumper near the free-throw line was just off the mark. DSHS rebounded and missed a second shot after the clock expired
“We turned it over on the press in the last part of the game,” DSHS coach Shelly Laprarie said. “We had pretty much handled it. I guess we got greedy and went for longer passes they were able to intercept.
“We just didn’t finish. I told the kids, ‘You got to keep your head up, learn from this and let it make us better.’ ”
Denham Springs raced out to a 5-2 lead. A jumper by Megan Strange at the 3:21 mark gave Walker a 6-5 lead. The Wildcats added to their lead.
But a 3-pointer from near the top of the key by Ensminger sent DSHS into the second quarter with an 11-10 lead.
DSHS scored the first seven points of the second quarter, including a 3-pointer from the right wing by Jenna Mabile with 5:52 remaining. But Walker gradually scratched its way back and scored seven of the final nine points. Two free throws by Lowe with 40.4 seconds left got WHS within three, at 20-17, by halftime.
Denham Springs extended its lead to five points in the third quarter before Walker rallied again. Lowe’s drive through the lane with 1:04 left tied the game at 26-26. Less than 20 seconds later, Denham Springs’ countered with a layup by Rachel Riley.
The Yellow Jackets took a 28-26 lead into the fourth quarter and another Riley layup pushed the lead back to four points. Lowe scored back-to-back baskets and tied the score at 30-30 at the 6:10 mark.
Short jumpers by in the lane by Kinchen and Ensminger extended the Yellow Jackets lead again. Patterson’s jumper near the free-throw line upped the DSHS lead to 36-30 with 4:55 left.
That’s when Walker’s defense cranked things up. Stears hit a 3-pointer from the left side with 3:54 left off one of those turnovers, cutting the DSHS lead in half. Lowe’s steal and layup 22 seconds later got the Wildcats within one, at 36-35.
More turnovers followed and WHS missed some chances to score. But a trap near the sideline yielded another turnover. Strange heaved the ball to Stears, who drove in for what proved to be the game-winning points with 1:49 to go.
“It was my shot,” Stears said of 3-pointer. “When it left my hands, I knew it was in. I knew Megan Strange could get me a good pass, and I could finish the layup.
“It (win over Denham Springs) is huge. It means a lot. We’re all even across the boards with (DSHS), Scotlandville and Zachary.”