LAKE CHARLES -- Since the early stages of the 2017-18 basketball season way back in October when Walker went through the first few weeks with a skeletal crew as the football season finished up until now, Wildcat players and coaches have shared one lofty goal.
Sometimes it was left unsaid, sometimes there was no hesitation to throw out the idea.
From Day 1 this season, Walker’s goal has been to win a state championship.
No reason for the Wildcats to be careful for what they wish for now because that chance is right here, right now.
With a dominant state semifinal victory as the launching pad, No. 4 Walker (32-4) squares off with reigning state champion Landry-Walker (25-6) at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Class 5A state championship game at Burton Coliseum.
“I remember talking about it at 10 years old – being at this stage and getting our chance to win a state championship,” said Dalton Moore, one of seven seniors who make up the team’s gritty foundation. “We always talked to each other about our senior year is going to be like this or that, and it’s just crazy that it is actually here.”
It took loads of hard work and strong play to reach this point, and Landry-Walker figures to make the Wildcats earn whatever happens on Saturday.
The Chargin’ Buccaneers are hunting for their fourth state crown in the last five years – the first two at the 4A level before last season’s stunning run to the top of 5A as the No. 22 seed. Along the way, L-W clipped No. 6 seed Lafayette 45-44 and the stunned No. 3 seed Natchitoches Central in the quarterfinal round after the Chiefs had nipped Walker 52-50.
A veteran core group is back from that championship team, and this year’s journey to the final has been no fluke: The Bucs came into the playoffs as the No. 3 seed and, much like the Wildcats, didn’t get pushed much in the first three rounds, winning by an average of 17 points.
That changed Thursday against Ouachita Parish in a game that went back-and-forth most of the night before L-W created some late breathing room and held off the Indians by converting 9-of-13 free throws down the stretch.
Walker and the Bucs didn’t play during the regular season, but did collide on Dec. 22, 2016 at the Wildcats’ pre-Christmas tournament at Glenn Ellis Gym. Walker edged L-W 69-65 that night.
“We’re fairly familiar with Landry-Walker,” Wildcats’ coach Anthony Schiro said. “We played them last year and both teams have a lot of returning guys. We’re not going to change much. We’re going to keep being relentless and see what we can do against a very good, very athletic opponent who knows how to win at this time of year.”
While this might again be fairly new territory for Walker, which is playing in the first state championship game in school history, the path along the way is something the Wildcats are counting on.
Walker’s tough-as-nails schedule included games against seven teams that came to Lake Charles for their respective state semifinals: District 4-5A foe Scotlandville, Catholic High, McKinley, Woodlawn-Shreveport, Madison Prep, Riverside Academy and Jehoveh-Jireh.
“After we got put out of the playoffs (last season), that was my No. 1 goal,” Schiro said of the tough slate. “I knew we would be hungry after we lost to Natchitoches and I knew we’d be ready for the moment. We scheduled about as tough as I could get. We weren’t going to back down from anybody. These guys did an excellent job of competing all season and that’s gotten us ready for the stage.”
Sure seemed to be the case on Thursday.
While the Bucs had to scratch and claw to advance, Walker steamrolled Natchitoches Central by shooting 60+% in each of the last three quarters and dominating the backboards 44-27.
Everybody in a green uniform chimed in as the Cats delivered one of their best performance of the season in a pressure-packed situation. Afterward, veteran Chiefs’ coach Micah Coleman lauded Walker as the best team he has seen in the half dozen trips he has made to the state semifinals with his program.
What can the Wildcats do for an encore?
As Schiro alluded to, the simple answer seems to be more of the same. His veteran players tend to agree.
“We’ve pretty much heard the same thing from our coaches the last few days that we’ve heard for four years,” said guard Darius Hampton, who broke loose for a season-high 21 points on Thursday and became the fourth current Wildcat to surpass 1,000 points scored in his career.
“Play hard, stay in the game, play defense, help each other and communicate. We’re a pretty confident team because we know each other so well.”
Confident and focused on a task that began in earnest in October.
Randy Rosetta is Sports Editor of The Livingston Parish News.
You can reach him at (225) 999.0667 or Randy@LPN1989.com.
Follow on Twitter: @RandyRosetta | @LPN_Sports | @LPNews1898