LAKE CHARLES — The two teams combined for 66 turnovers and only one team shot better than 40 percent from the field. But top-seeded Ponchatoula will take it and the Class 5A girls state basketball title that goes along with it.
The Green Wave trailed only briefly and didn’t waver while notching a 47-29 victory over No. 2 Walker in the 5A final that concluded the girls Top 28 tournament Saturday night at Burton Coliseum.
It was the first state title in girls basketball for Ponchatoula (32-3). The Green Wave hadn’t been to the state tourney since losing in the Class 3A final in 1977.
“I had hundreds of texts and emails and Facebook messages from the kids that played prior (to this season),” Ponchatoula coach Patricia Landaiche said. “I actually got contacted by four of the five starters on that 1977 team. They wished us luck and said that for all that fell short please win it for us.”
Arianna Hamilton scored a game-high 18 points, including 12 of 14 free throws to lead PHS and was voted Most Outstanding Player in the title game.
Kayla Lee added 13 points, while Jyar Francis added eight points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
“It truly is a blessing to play with such great girls,” Hamilton said. “The six seniors … we fell short a couple of times … and we just wanted to end out on a good note. You want to go out on top and win your last game and win the state championship.”
There was no chance for late-game heroics for Walker’s semifinal heroine Jamie Gibson. But Gibson did lead Walker (31-6) with 13 points and seven rebounds Keeona Brown added eight for Walker.
The Wildcats gave up 21 points off their 33 turnovers. Walker’s point total was only eight better than the tournament record for fewest points scored in a 5A game.
“Our kids battled and battled,” Walker coach Korey Arnold said. “We knew in order to be successful we had to keep them off the glass, keep the game fast and force them into turnovers.
“At times we did a good job of that. The difference in the game was we didn’t do much with our turnovers, and they did.”
There were problems for Walker from the beginning. The Wildcats were 1-for-3 from the field in the first quarter. The issue was 10 first-quarter turnovers. Though Ponchatoula made just 3 of its 13 first-quarter shots, the percentages weren’t as big an issue.
Baylie Stears scored the lone basket for Walker at the 5:17 mark, giving her team a 2-0 lead. It was all Green Wave after that. Rachel Sullivan’s layup with 50 seconds left sent Ponchatoula into the second quarter with a 9-2 lead.
PHS increased its lead to 13-2. Walker cut the lead seven at one point. But a 7-0 Ponchatoula surge made it 20-6.
A Hamilton layup gave the Green Wave that 12-point edge with 3:52 remaining in the half.
Making matters worse, the Wildcats lost point guard Kacie Fountain who injured an ankle in the second quarter. Fountain, who was already playing with a torn meniscus, returned in the second half but played in obvious pain.
“I was going to do whatever I could to help my team win,” a tearful Fountain said. “But it wasn’t enough.”
Walker drew closer with a 6-2 spurt that included a field goal and two free throws by Brown. Lee had nine first-half points for Ponchatoula, which led 22-10 at the half.
“At halftime, we told our guys that we were both playing ugly,” Landaiche said. “I told them if I paid my $10, I’d want it back.
“I told them to get out there, clean it up, and capitalize on those turnovers and do what they need to do to win.”
Walker got as close as six in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Gibson that made it 25-19 with 3:02 left.
Ponchatoula stretched the lead back to 10 points by the end of the third quarter and never looked back.