ALEXANDRIA — During a timeout, Vermilion Catholic coach Kim Guidry looked up at the scoreboard hanging from the rafters of the Rapides Parish Coliseum and saw a seven-point lead in the final quarter of Monday afternoon’s Division IV semifinal against Houma Christian.
It all felt familiar — a late lead, against this team, at this exact point in the postseason.
“I said, ‘Just remember last year. We were up by 11 and they came back and won in overtime,’ ” Guidry told her players. “‘So it’s not over until it’s over.’ ”
Guidry’s message to her team proved to be prophetic. The third-seeded Eagles (27-5) led by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter before Houma Christian tied the score at 44 with a minute remaining.
The difference in the fourth quarter this year, however, was free throws. In last year’s semifinal, the second-seeded Warriors (26-6) shot twice as many free throws as VC, helping them chip away at a double-digit deficit and force overtime.
But the Eagles turned the tables on Houma Christian to advance to the state championship for the first time since 2015. Eagles senior point Jay Demouchet converted a three-point play after Houma Christian tied the game and nailed two more free throws in the closing seconds to seal a 49-44 win.
“She took over the game and kind of led the offense and took charge,” Guidry said of Demouchet, who finished with 17 points, seven assists and four steals.
Demouchet made all seven of her free throw attempts, part of VC’s 13-of-16 clip from the free-throw line. The Warriors made 11 of its 17 free throws.
“Our motto is, ‘You win and lose with layups and free throws,’ ” Guidry said. “So we try to keep it fundamental.”
VC’s victory sets up a rematch with top-seeded Lafayette Christian in the Division IV final at noon Friday. The two-time defending champion Knights beat the Eagles by 32 points in the regular-season finale — a loss, like the 2018 semifinal defeat to Houma Christian, VC hasn’t forgotten.
“It was probably the worst game these seniors have played,” said Guidry, who starts four seniors and a junior.
At least the league foes will be playing on a neutral court this time, but Guidry joked the Eagles will be searching for “what magic trick we can pull out the hat” in practice the next few days.
“(LCA) just has total package. They’ve got guards, they’ve got post (players), they can run the floor, they can play defense,” Guidry said. “But that’s OK. We’re still going to show up at noon Friday and play.”
Most won’t give VC a chance against LCA. But the Eagles were the underdogs Monday, too, and they beat the perimeter-oriented Warriors with defense. Houma Christian shot just 33.3 percent from the field, connecting on only 1 of its 18 3-point attempts. The Warriors couldn’t establish any sort of offensive rhythm against VC’s triangle-and-two defense.
“I think that’s definitely the best defensive game we’ve played all year,” said Eagles senior Ainsley Mallet, who finished with a team-high 18 points, “and I think it showed in the end.”
Mallet canned three 3-pointers, and her biggest came in the third quarter. Houma Christian opened the second half on an 11-2 run to take a 31-25 lead, but Mallet drained a 3-pointer from the corner to spark a 10-2 run to close the quarter. From there, despite the late tie, the Eagles never trailed.
“It’s just about responding to adversity and never giving up,” Mallet said. “Because it’s not over until the buzzer rings in the end.”