WALKER — Second-seeded Walker High saved its best for last. With LSU signee Tiara Young scoring 18 of her 26 points in the second half and overtime, Walker rallied to oust Natchitoches Central 62-53 in a Class 5A quarterfinal game Thursday night at WHS.
With the victory, Walker (32-4) advances to play District 4-5A rival Denham Springs (27-5), the No. 6 seed, in the semifinals at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Basketball tournament that begins Monday in Alexandria at the Rapides Coliseum.
The heightened intensity of the state playoffs was apparent from the opening tip as three players wrestled to earn the game’s first possession. NCHS guard Jaunti Franklin scored a game-high 30 points.
Franklin’s scoring was evenly distributed through game, but most of her second half points came from the free throw line as the increasingly physical Walker defense and frequent double-teams limited her field goal attempts.
After scoring only four points in first half, Walker’s Young took over. She doubled her first scoring total in the third quarter, then added 18 more points in the fourth quarter and overtime period to finish with 26 points. Tarondia and Trinity Harold scored 17 and 12 points, respectively, for the Wildcats.
Despite top scoring performances from three players, Walker’s acting head coach Hannah Jones credited the win to “an all-around team effort.”
Ultimately, a string of late turnovers by No. 7 seed Natchitoches Central (21-9), combined with a seemingly unstoppable scoring streak by Young, allowed Walker to tie the game in the final minute of regulation. NCHS was the Class 5A runner-up a year ago
Natchitoches Central sophomore point guard Ty Sowell, who finished the game with 12 points, turned the ball over three times at the end of regulation.
“It came down to not handling the ball well at the end of the game,” NCHS coach Nikki Jones said. “We had three chances in the bonus to close it out — to take care of the ball and get to the rim and the free throw line, but we threw it away all three times.”
“You can’t expect anything to be happen a certain way — you have to be ready for the unexpected,” Walker’s Hannah Jones noted. “You’ve got to play basketball. Plain and simple.”