ALEXANDRIA — With no juniors or seniors on its roster, St. Katharine Drexel Prep was supposed to be too young this year.
Someone apparently forgot to tell that to the Yellow Jackets.
No. 6 St. Katharine earned its ticket to Saturday's noon Division III championship game with a 48-41 victory over No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas in the semifinals of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls State Championship Tournament at Rapides Coliseum.
"We were made for the big stage," Prep coach Terry Wilson. "We are young and this is all part of the process. This is a very scary team to be so young."
St. Katharine Drexel, which was known as Xavier Prep up until 2013, advances to play rival St. Mary's Academy in an all-New Orleans area championship game.
Sophomore Tyra Vaughn poured in a game-high 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Jackets (20-8).
"Tyra is a different type of player," Wilson said. "She's one of those throwback players. My nickname for her is 'Slow Motion' because she looks like she's (moving in) slow motion. But she can play and she knows what she is doing with the ball."
While Vaughn was leading the offense, it was freshman guard Emmia Johnson spearheading the defense that wreaked havoc all game long.
The 5-foot-2 Johnson finished with seven steals. Prep forced St. Thomas Aquinas into 29 turnovers. Sophomore Genise Wells had five steals.
"I focus a lot on defense and not very much on offense," Johnson said. "I feel when I pressure people, I'm getting them out of their game and getting in their head. Defense is what brings our team up."
Trailing 26-24 early in the third, Prep went on a 10-0 run to finally get some separation from the Falcons.
Sophomore Daialone Freeman scored the first four points of the run and Vaughn closed it out with six points.
"We are a speed team and I feel that's what we have to our advantage," Wilson said. "We aren't very big. We stay after it. I just think we wore them down, just like we did Dunham (in the quarterfinals.)"
St. Thomas Aquinas (22-9), seeking its second straight trip to the finals after losing to Northlake Christian in last year's championship game, didn't go away. The Falcons tied it at 35-35 midway through the fourth, but Prep answered. Clinging to a 39-37 lead with two minutes left, the Jackets outscored the Falcons 9-2 the rest of the way to move a step closer to the school's first state title.
Lilly Maggio scored 15 points to lead St. Thomas Aquinas, which shot 22.2 percent (12 of 54) in the game.
"It was a difficult game for us," St. Thomas Aquinas coach Melanie Kramer said. "It was not a good performance by our team. It's not the way we typically play. We missed 12 free throws and probably eight uncontested layups. It's very hard to win games like that. I thought we played hard. We just missed a lot of shots that we normally make."
Wells and Freeman chipped in eight points each for Prep. Tyrione Sparks, just an eighth-grader, grabbed a team-high 14 rebounds.
"They are growing up a lot faster than I thought," Wilson said. "I've been doing this for 24 years and I've never had this much talent, this young."