LAKE CHARLES — Second-seeded Walker cut 11th-seeded New Iberia’s Cinderella story short in dramatic fashion Thursday night when it defeated the Yellow Jackets 51-49 in the second 5A semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Top 28 tournament at Burton Coliseum.
Walker will meet Ponchatoula for the 5A state championship at 8 p.m. Saturday.
The contest went down to the wire as it took a shot in the final seconds for Walker to finally put the Lady Jackets away.
“They made one more play in the game than we did,” New Iberia assistant coach Jeremy Bonin said. “We have nothing to hang our hats on. There was a time in the season when nobody thought we’d be here.”
But New Iberia mounted a comeback, opening the fourth quarter with a 9-2 run that tied it at 45.
The two teams proceeded to trade blows until Walker senior forward Jamie Gibson hit a shot with less than five seconds remaining. New Iberia failed to inbound the ball before time expired.
“I grabbed the ball and heard people say ‘shoot,’ ” Gibson said. “I looked at the clock and went ‘alright, I’m shooting.’ … My teammates put me in that spot, and they trusted me. I’m very honored to have that trust.”
Walker coach Korey Arnold said he’s come to expect plays like that from Gibson.
“The thing that’s most impressive about Jamie is she’s gotten better every year,” Arnold said. “I think that’s a credit to her work ethic and her upbringing. She’s a hard worker, and she never got content. Even in this game, she did some things I haven’t seen from her, so she’s still improving to this day.”
Gibson finished with a game-high 19 points in addition to six rebounds and a block. Fellow senior Kacie Fountain also contributed 16 points with seven rebounds and four steals.
“It means a lot because it’s been almost 40 years since Walker’s been back here,” Gibson said. “Ever since my fresman year, I’ve always wanted to be here. … We wanted it. Everyone wants it. Even our community wants it. I’m so proud of my team for getting us here.”
New Iberia got off to a slow start, failing to record a field goal in the game’s first 11 minutes, allowing Walker to jump out to a 23-10 lead.
The Lady Jackets finally got into an offensive rhythm in the second quarter and slowly chipped away at the Wildcats’ lead until they eventually cut it to as low as a point midway through the third quarter.
“An 11 minute stretch without a field goal and an 11-point deficit is minor compared to what these girls have been through the last three years.” Bonin said. “I had no doubt that we’d fight back.
“They’re tough. In four games, they went from being little girls to grown women, and I’m extremely proud of that.”
Walker responded, preventing the Lady Jackets from taking a lead and surging with a 10-2 run to re-establish control.