LAKE CHARLES — Ponchatoula denied Destrehan’s Cara Ursin the ball all game Thursday.
As a result, they denied the Wildcats a chance at a championship.
Ponchatoula’s defense shadowed Ursin all game, holding her to a season-low seven points and dashing Destrehan’s title hopes with a 47-41 victory in the Class 5A semifinals.
The electrifying sophomore guard had torched Ponchatoula for 39 points in a 16-point victory during the regular season, but the Green Wave wasn’t about to let that happen again.
Ursin couldn’t hold back the tears afterward.
“I told my team that I was going to get it for them this year,” Ursin said. “We had those seniors who worked their butts off. It was tough for me. I just didn’t play my best game today. It was the worst game I had this season. When my team needed me, I just couldn’t step up.”
The 5-foot-7 Ursin, considered by many to be the state’s most dynamic player, came into the game averaging 24.9 points. She didn’t score her first points Thursday until she knocked down a pair of free throws with 5:32 left in the third quarter.
Her first field goal came with 5:54 remaining in the fourth. She finished 1 for 9 for the floor, but was denied the ball throughout most of the game thanks to the smothering defense of Rachel Sullivan. When Sullivan left the game, it was Allie Amerson who followed Ursin every where she went.
“She is quick and likes to penetrate, so I just stayed low and played chest up with her,” Sullivan said.
Ponchatoula coach Patricia Landaiche said she was pleased with her team’s effort from start to finish.
“They seemed focused the whole entire trip,” Landaiche said. “Ever since that loss to Covington, they have been on a mission. They wanted to shut down Cara, and I think they did a good job.”
Ponchatoula (31-3), the No. 1 seed, advances to Saturday’s championship game to play Thursday’s Walker-New Iberia winner.
Destrehan, the No. 4 seed, finished 29-3 and fell short of making a second straight trip to the title game after losing to Mount Carmel in last year’s final.
“I just think our shots weren’t falling,” Destrehan coach Angie Butler said. “I think you have games like that. It just wasn’t our day. The girls played hard and we just couldn’t get the ball to go in.”
Kiki Kenner led Destrehan with 15 points and Jerlicia Morris finished with seven.
Ursin also had a team-high eight rebounds for the Wildcats, who posted a convincing 73-57 victory over the Wave earlier this season.
“We basically stunk up the gym that night,” Landaiche said. “We played scared that night. Tonight we came out with a mission and wanted to get them back a little bit.”
Ponchatoula set the tone early, building a 16-6 lead through the midway point of the second quarter. But despite the defensive effort against Ursin (0-for-2 in the first half), Ponchatoula led just 18-13 at halftime. Morris scored all seven of her points in the first two quarters.
Destrehan didn’t go away. The Wildcats took the lead with 4:26 on an Ursin assist to Kenner to make it 34-33. It was their first and only lead of the game.
Ponchatoula sank 12 of 16 free throws the rest of the way to stave Destrehan off.
Arianna Hamilton was 6 of 6 from the line in the fourth quarter and finished with a game-high 21 points. Jyar Francis had 14 points.
“I think they hustled and blocked out better than we did,” Butler said. “We just couldn’t get there today. I told the girls to drive the paint. ... We started slow and we are a slow-starting team. I told them that could cost us a game one day and (Thursday) was the day.”
Ponchatoula is now in the title game for the first time since 1977.
“We have a second-place trophy at our gym, but we want that first-place one,” Landaiche said.
Destrehan, meanwhile, will have to wait another year. The Wildcats return the bulk of their team, including Ursin and returning sophomore starters Kenner, Morris and Brandi Mason. Starter Jasmine Morris, Lamitra Wells and Tiera Melancon are the lone three seniors.
“The future is bright,” Butler said. “I told you last year we would be back and we’re back. I think we’ll be back next year. We just have to keep our heads up and learn from this experience.”