WALKER -- Sometimes the ones that get away are the hardest to choke down, as well as the hardest to get over.
For the second time in the last few weeks, the Walker boys are heading into that test of their mettle.
The Wildcats tangled with Scotlandville on Friday in a battle of District 4-5A co-leaders, and not a whole lot separated the two heavyweights for the first half and the first several possessions of the third quarter.
But the Hornets, rated No. 1 in the latest LHSAA Division I (select) power ratings, uncorked two timely bursts to wiggle away from a back-and-forth affair and pulled away for an 82-63 triumph.
Scotlandville (26-3, 7-1) moved into first place alone in District 4-5A, and barring any major upsets in the final week of the regular season, will win the league. Walker (21-8, 6-2) is left to pick up the pieces after a much-closer call than the score indicates outcome against the best team the Cats have faced all season.
In the aftermath, there was frustration blended with resolve from Walker, which led early in the third period and clawed back within 47-42 moments later before fading.
“It hurts but it also makes us believe we play with anybody else we play against,” said WHS freshman Jalen Cook, who led his team with 21 points. “It shows us that we can’t give up or stop playing no matter what the score is or who we’re playing because we have the talent to fight back.”
Added Walker coach Anthony Schiro, “At some point, you have to stop liking moral victories. We know the caliber of team Scotlandville is and now we’ve proven to ourselves again that we can hang with them. We have to take that next step and learn how to play when we take the lead and go from there.”
That was a hurdle the Wildcats couldn’t scale Friday, largely because Scotlandville had a few more players able to step in and make plays when Walker effectively neutralized star guard Ja’Vonte Smart.
Smart wound up with a big night – 28 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists – but much of that damage came in the final quarter after the Hornets had seized control.
Instead of the 5-star playmaker hurting the Cats most, it was two freshmen who pestered them: Reese Beekman connected on five second-half 3-pointers and big man Jonathan Horton, making his first varsity start, chimed in with 11 points and 6 boards.
That duo supplied a perfect complement to the Hornets’ normal balance, with Malik Williams scoring 17 and Jaylen Hawkins 11.
As damaging as all of Scotlandville’s offensive salvos were, though, it was defense that turned the game around.
Not until Walker made the Hornets plenty uncomfortable, though.
Down 29-15 after a Williams’ 3-pointer at the 4:31 juncture of the second quarter, Walker got rolling with 11 unanswered points as Cook and Jacobi Scott combined to carry the Cats back into the game.
Cook churned out 9 points in 3:20, the last on a pair of free throws that closed the gap to 31-30. Darius Hampton scored on a dribble-drive to answer a Smart bucket to send the game to halftime with the Hornets in front 33-32.
Walker came out of the gate firing in the third quarter, snagging the lead on a Jalen Perkins-to-Hampton back-door play as the teams swapped the lead four times in 58 seconds.
Smart gave Scotlandville the lead with a 3 from the left wing to cap that flurry and trigger a 10-0 surge, culminating with Beekman’s first trey for a 45-36 advantage at the 5:01 mark.
“We took that lead after halftime and were feeling good and then (Scotlandville) hit a couple of big shots,” Schiro said. “We tried to get those back too quickly and got out of our game.”
Cook credited the Hornets for exploiting a Wildcats’ defense that had worked well in the first half.
“They took advantage of our trap and started attacking better and got a lot of open shots from 3,” he said. “Then when we missed, they pushed it and beat us down the floor. We have to get down the floor better on defense than we did.”
Meanwhile, the Scotlandville defense also ratcheted things up.
The Cats turned the ball over only three times in the opening 16 minutes, but quickly came unraveled in the third quarter. After scoring on its first two offensive trips of the third quarter, Walker coughed the ball up on four of the next six possessions as the Hornets reeled off their first run.
After back-to-back Cook hoops and another from Dalton Moore whittled the difference to 47-42, Scotlandville mashed down on the accelerator again with an 8-0 surge as the Wildcats’ last five possessions resulted in two missed shots sandwiched around three more giveways.
Walker finished the third quarter with eight turnovers and only five made field goals in 11 attempts.
“We’ve got to take advantage of the lead when we get it,” Cook said. “We’ve got to take good shots and take better care of the ball than we did.”
Ignited by Moore’s six points, the Wildcats made a final lunge early in the fourth quarter and got as close as 10 points twice. But Beekman kept delivering 3-point daggers – three in the span of 4:25 – and Scotlandville quelled any chance of a rally by connecting on 12-of-14 free throws down the stretch, with Smart swishing 8-of-9 (14 of 15 in the game).
With reorganized goals, Walker heads into the final week of the regular season with a game at Denham Springs High on Tuesday and then a home contest vs. Zachary on Friday.
The Wildcats and Broncos waged a tense battle on Jan. 31 with Walker prevailing 62-56. Zachary is also 6-2 in district play after clubbing Live Oak 46-24 on Friday.
“The next game is the most important game to us because our new goal is finish in second place and go into the playoffs with some confidence,” Cook said.
Added Schiro, “We don’t want to have a letdown. We don’t want to let one game define us.”
Moore scored 14 points for WHS, while Scott added 11. Perkins was limited to 6 points but led the Cats with 8 rebounds and also rejected 6 shots.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
- The two teams missed only three free throws apiece – Walker was 23-for-26 and Scotlandville 21-of-24. No individual missed more than two from the foul stripe.
- Scotlandville recorded 11 assists on 15 second-half made field goals. Walker finished with an uncharacteristically low 9 helpers on 19 makes.
- The Wildcats also struggled from outside the arc, knocking down only 2-of-13, while the Hornets warmed up after a cold first half (2-for-10) to nail 7-of-14 from deep over the final two quarters.
- With Moore draped on Smart defensively, the Hornets’ star didn’t make his first floor shot until late in the second quarter. He bounced back with a pair of treys and another bucket in the third period.
- Two of the Wildcats’ primary offensive weapons were limited all night as Scott put up only five floor shots and Perkins 4.
- Ten of Scotlandville’s 33 first-half points came on second-chance shots.
SCOTLANDVILLE 82, WALKER 63
Scotlandville 18 15 22 27 -- 82
Walker 12 20 11 20 -- 63
Scotlandville (82) -- Ja’Vonte Smart 6-16 14-15 28, Malik Williams 7-16 2-3 17, Jaylen Hawkins 4-9 2-3 11, Reece Beekman 5-11 0-0 15, Jonathan Horton 4-5 3-3 11, Levi Lewis 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-58 21-24 82.
Walker (63) -- Jacobi Scott 2-5 7-8 11, Darius Hampton 3-10 0-0 6, Jalen Cook 5-13 10-12 21, Jalen Perkins 2-4 2-2 6, Dalton Moore 5-9 4-4 14, Josh Cook 2-4 0-0 5, Le Davis 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-47 23-26 63.
3-point goals -- Scotlandville 9-24 (Beekman 5-8, Smart 2-9, Williams 1-2, Hawkins 1-5), Walker 2-13 (Jo. Cook 1-1, Ja. Cook 1-5, Davis 0-1, Hampton 0-1, Moore 0-2, Scott 0-3). Total fouls -- Scotlandville 18, Walker 20. Fouled out -- Scott, Perkins. Records: Scotlandville 26-3, 7-1 District 4-5A; Walker 21-8, 6-2. Up next: Walker at DSHS, 7 p.m. Tuesday; Scotlandville at Live Oak, 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Randy Rosetta is Sports Editor of The Livingston Parish News.
You can reach him at (225) 610.5507 or RandyR@LivingstonParishNews.com.
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