LAKE CHARLES — Some teams have name recognition based on a string of state titles or state tourney appearances. Top-seeded Ponchatoula and No. 2 Walker don’t have that.
What they do have is the chance to make history in the Class 5A title game that concludes the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Top 28 tournament Saturday night.
“It’s a rich tradition with this program and in the Livingston (Parish) area, but when you look at it Walker hasn’t won a state championship since 1977 and that’s almost 40 years ago,” Walker coach Korey Arnold said. “It means a lot to be part of this for the school and the community.”
Ponchatoula (31-3) takes on Walker (31-5) in the 5A game set for 8 p.m. at Burton Colisem.
The game is part of a four-game session that starts at 2 p.m. with No. 1 North Central (29-3) taking on No. 2 Vermilion Catholic (26-4) in the 1A final. Top-seeded Pickering (29-4) meets defending champion North Caddo (23-11), the No. 6 seed, in the 2A game at 4 p.m.
Nationally ranked Warren Easton (33-1) faces No. 2 Salmen (27-4), the two-time defending champion, in a Class 4A title-game rematch at 6 p.m.
Those games set up the 5A final between two teams whose bond with each other and the state tourney dates to 1977 and includes 2009.
While Walker won the Class 2A title in 1977, Ponchatoula was the 3A runner-up. Livingston Parish-based Walker and Ponchatoula of Tangipahoa lost semifinals games in their last tourney appearance in 2009.
Yet the teams followed the script for top seeds with dramatic semifinal wins Thursday. Ponchatoula made 12 of 16 fourth-quarter free throws en route to a 47-41 win over Destrehan, the 5A runner-up a year ago. Jamie Gibson’s basket with 4.5 seconds remaining lifted Walker to a 51-49 victory over New Iberia.
Once you put the semifinal drama and the historical references into perspective, two things are clear. Both the Green Wave and Wildcats will wear variations of the color green but their styles of play are as different as night and day. The 5-foot-10 Gibson averages 20.7 points per game to lead Walker, while 6-1 Jyar Francis averages 20.2 for Ponchatoula.
“We’ve seen them (Ponchatoula) multiple times,” Arnold said. “They’re very solid and skilled, and I’m not surprised to see them in the finals. You’re looking at a battle of wills.
“If we can get them out of a halfcourt game and into the open court, I think it will favor us. And if it turns into a halfcourt game where they can grind, it will favor them.”
Ponchatoula coach Patricia Landaiche agreed.
“They have some good outside shooters, and they’re going to play a tough zone defense probably against us, knowing that we like to pound it inside,” Landaiche said. “We should have the edge with the inside game against them. Hopefully, they’ll take those shots from outside.”
Salmen seeks its third state title in 4A. Win or lose, the game marks the end of the prep career for one of the most decorated post players in state history. Salmen’s Kalani Brown, a Baylor signee, is the reigning Miss Basketball.
Class 1A North Central is making its second straight title game appearance and looks to win its first 1A crown. Vermilion Catholic was the 1A champion in 2013.
Like 4A Warren Easton, Pickering in 2A also seeks its first state title.