LAKE CHARLES – The prevailing narrative in Walker High’s first state championship of a year ago was that of a gritty, never-say-die attitude exhibited by the Wildcats down the stretch of the fourth quarter where they eventually won in overtime.
Faced with a similar backs-to-the wall scenario, Walker was equally determined and unwavering just to reach its second straight state championship contest.
After trailing for nearly 29 minutes, including a pair of double-digit first-half deficits, third-seeded Walker displayed its championship mettle once again, taking the lead for good with 3:25 to play en route to a 53-48 victory over second-seeded Ouachita Parish in Thursday’s Class 5A state semifinal at Burton Coliseum.
The Wildcats (28-9) will try and defend their Class 5A state title against top-seeded Thibodaux, a 63-48 winner over Bonnabel, at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“Especially in the fourth quarter, those guys showed they are a championship-level team,” Ouachita coach Jeremy Madison. “They made timely baskets, they had big-time stops.”
Junior point guard Jalen Cook delivered a show-stopping performance, pouring in 37 points to lead Walker, which shot 29.7 percent through three quarters.
To compound matters, second-leading scorer Brian Thomas, the MVP of last year’s state championship game, missed his first seven shots of the game, was scoreless through the first half and was saddled with foul trouble in the second half.
Yet, Walker, which extended its win streak to nine games, still found a way to win.
“We just kept playing hard,” said Cook, who made 11 of 26 shots, including 6 of 11 from 3-point range. “We’ve been through a lot of adversity this season, but we knew we would shake back if we kept playing hard defense. We knew they would come at us, so we had to go at them harder and adjust at halftime.”
Said Walker coach Anthony Schiro: “That was two great teams. That was a battle. The physicality of the game; it was just a war.”
One in which Walker ultimately prevailed, outscoring Ouachita (32-6) 19-9 in the final quarter.
The Wildcats, which stopped Lions’ 17-game game win streak, only allowed three field goals in the final quarter, providing time for Cook and the offense to get untrack over the final three-plus minutes of play.
Cook, who scored 12 fourth-quarter points, knocked down a step-back 3-pointer from the top of the key, providing Walker with only its second lead of the game (46-43) and first since the 5:37 mark of the second quarter.
“It’s a game of runs,” Schiro said. “I told them to give me two or three stops right here, and two or three baskets, and you know what we’re right back in this thing. We kept wanting to attack the rim to get to the free throw line, the things we did late in the game. The momentum was all with Ouachita for a long time.”
Madison felt a key turning point came with 2:34 remaining and Walker leading 48-45 after a pair of free throws from Calvin Watson, who fouled out Ouachita’s 6-foot-8 center Myron Washington on the play.
“He’s our rim protector and he’s able to get second-chance point,” said Madison, whose team was led by Charquez Owens’ 17 points. “That swung the momentum to those guys.”
Schiro wanted to Walker to remain aggressive, driving toward the rim where Cook extended his team’s lead to 50-45 with 1:29 showing after a pair of free throws.
The Wildcats held a comfortable 14 of 22 advantage at the free throw line compared to the Lions’ 2 of 4 showing.
“We we’re going to get to the rim and we’re going to get them in foul trouble,” Schiro said.
A 3-pointer from Elijah Hall gave Ouachita only its third field goal of the quarter, getting to within 50-48 with 1:20 to play when Thomas added the punctation mark in Walker’s come-from-behind victory, driving the lane for a thunderous slam dunk with 1:04 left for a 52-48 lead, much to the approval of his teammates and crowd.
“We kept our composure like we did in the championship when we were down,” said Thomas, who wound up with seven points. “We kept our composure and came back and won.”
Cook carried his team’s scoring efforts in the first half, twice bringing Walker back from double-digit deficits.
He scored all 11 of his team’s first-quarter points and it was his fourth 3-pointer of the half at the 5:37 mark of the second quarter that resulted in a 16-15 lead.
Ouachita waited exactly 26 seconds to regain the lead with a 3-pointer from Jamal Davis to touch off an 11-0 run, resulting in a 26-16 advantage with 1:47 to go before halftime.
Walker, which shot 25 percent (4 of 16) in the opening half, scored one field goal in the last two minutes of play with Trent Montgomery following his own miss and Cook added 3 of 4 free throws in the last 50 seconds, getting the Wildcats to within 28-21 at halftime.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my guys for just the toughness they showed,” Schiro said “They never let the game get away from them. At the end we made the plays we needed to make to get the win.”
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