HAMMOND — “Defense Wins Championships” is one of the most over-used phrases in sports.
Leave it to fifth-seeded Denham Springs to put a different spin on it.
Denham Springs also played relentless defense to give themselves a chance to win a championship with a 47-35 victory over top-seeded Mandeville High in a game Class 5A semifinal that closed out Tuesday’s action at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Top 28 tournament.
“I’m overjoyed with the way we came out and competed in this environment,” DSHS coach Shelly Laprarie said. “The thing we pride ourselves on is defense. We just tell them defense is going to win ballgames and it’s going to keep you in a game until you can get things going offensively. They’ve bought into defense.”
And Yellow Jackets definitely cashed in by limiting Mandeville to 20.8 percent shooting from the field in the game played at SLU’s University Center. Skippers’ star Elise Reilly scored a game-high 18 points, but was 6-for-30 from the field.
Christina Canale, scored a team-high 16 points for DSHS (30-3), which advances to play No. 2 Mount Carmel (28-6) in the 5A title game set for 8 p.m. Friday.
Denham Springs had its shooting issues too, making just 33.3 percent of its shots. But the Yellow Jackets compensated by outrebounding Mandeville (30-2) by a 45-31 margin. Tremeeka Spikes had a game-high 12 rebounds, with Lexi McMorris and Maia Robinson each finishing with 10.
An eight-minute scoreless stretch for Mandeville in the first half was the key momentum shift. The Skippers never got closer than seven after that.
The post-game interviews provided the full range of emotions you’d expect. Mandeville coach Melissa Weinmunson got teary-eyed talking about her team.
“I didn’t want it to end like this,” Weinmunson said. “I’ve been in their shoes.”
On the flip side, Laprarie offered a wry smile after the news conference and stated, “After five times, we’re finally on the right side of this (news conference).”
It is Laprarie’s first trip to the finals in her sixth Top 28 appearance. Denham Springs won its last state title in 1996.
Mandeville raced out to a quick 5-2 lead, thanks in part to a 3-pointer by Reilly at the 4:41 mark. That’s when Skippers went ice cold. They didn’t score again in the first quarter. It was the opening Denham Springs the opening it needed to finish the first quarter on an 8-0 run. A 3-pointer by Canale with 28.7 seconds left made it 10-5.
Mandeville’s shooting woes continued. MHS didn’t score until there was 4:07 left in the half when Reilly made another 3-pointer. By that time DSHS led 18-8. The Yellow Jackets 25-14 at halftime.
Laprarie credited Caroline Taylor and others for their defense on Reilly, who averages 22.6 a game.
Taylor and Canale scored on drives to the basket when the Yellow Jackets sensed their outside shooting was off the mark. Denham Springs was up by double digits with four minutes left. Back-to-back baskets by Reilly got the Skippers within seven at 40-33 with 2:13 remaining.
DSHS displayed poise. A free throw by Canale and a layup by McMorris pushed the lead back out to double figures with 1:42 to go. Canale also made four free throws in the final minute.
MOUNT CARMEL 68, NATCHITOCHES CENTRAL 48: Second-seeded Mount Carmel erased a seven-point deficit with a 28-1 second-half run.
Paige Franckiewicz scored a game-high 21 points, making 8 of 11 shots from the field, including five 3-pointers for the Cubs (28-6). Ellie Holzman added 18 points and Megan Donaldson contributed 11.