Two beautiful elements that sports never fail to offer up are the unexpected twists and turns they provide and the way teams’ character and personalities tend to push towards the surface when things are toughest.
For one special, remarkable, memorable night Saturday, Walker perfectly swirled those two ingredients with drama and energy on the way to making history. And the Walker reference here is to the basketball team and every single dedicated fan that turned Burton Coliseum green-and-gold for the Class 5A state championship game.
For a program built so strongly on chemistry and a tight connection from the last manager on the bench to the Wildcat alumnus who serves as the CEO, the climb to the top of the state’s 5A penthouse for the first time needed to be like this. Because relentless hard work and earning something you want so badly, well, that’s just who Walker and its people are.
How the Wildcats accomplished what they did was emblematic of Livingston Parish as a whole, just like Holden’s drive back to the girls’ Class B state title and even Albany’s ability to return to the Class 3A State Tournament for a second year in a row.
What all three teams got done and how they did so is more example of the grit and fortitude that the young parish athletes have learned through the years from moms and dads and grandpas and grandmas who laid the foundation.
Since The Great Flood of 2016 washed through, Livingston Parish athletes and teams just keep shining. Starting with last basketball season, at least one parish team and often multiple teams have advanced to the state quarterfinals or deeper or have excelled in state meet competition in girls basketball, boys basketball, wrestling, softball, baseball, track & field, cross country, swimming, football and soccer. The Lady Rockets and Wildcats carried the parish banner to the top and that is something everybody in Livingston Parish should be proud of.
That kind of success doesn’t just happen by accident. It takes a special kind of person or groups of people to make it happen. It takes teams with great leadership, and in the case of the three basketball teams from Walker, Holden and Albany, leaders whose communities are tightly woven into their fiber – all of them natives of the towns where they’re called Coach.
Walker’s scintillating 62-57 triumph over Landry-Walker in overtime on Saturday possessed a plethora of elements that made it the perfect ending to a spectacular season.
Understand that the final step in the Wildcats’ state championship journey was their most difficult and arguably their worst performance in five playoff games – that said, it wasn’t a poorly played game as much as it was Walker just having the kind of frustrating shooting night that happens in basketball.
Wildcats’ coach Anthony Schiro correctly pointed out that Landry-Walker had a lot to do with Walker’s shooting woes, but it was more than that. Shots that guys have made all season from the paint and on wide-open looks from the perimeter just … missed.
Yet the Wildcats found a way. They reached down and relied on their belief in each other and revved up a confidence that was understandably wobbly.
There was more than that, though.
With a team as talented as Walker, there can be a tendency to downplay and diminish the impact that coaches can have. If there was any doubt about how huge an impact Schiro and his assistant coaches had on the Wildcats this season and especially in crunch time on Saturday, it should be long gone.
If you are a parent of children who have reached teenager-dom or you have survived those years, you likely have some kind of grasp on how delicate it can be to navigate those years. It’s rewarding for parents and teens alike, but tricky.
So take a small group of very talented teens who have excelled at almost every step of the way all season and throw them into a situation where the last of their lofty goals seems to be headed toward a sour conclusion.
That was exactly where Walker stood when Schiro called a timeout with 1:20 left in regulation on Saturday. He and his lieutenants – Donnie Goodson, Connor Locke and Eric Cook – sensed the players were in a strange place, so they went to work on their psyches. Scheme-wise, they put the Cats into a harassing, trapping, full-court press and convinced them that it would work.
Then the normal happened. Players went out and executed perfectly and the game turned completely around. Which takes us back to the specialness of sports.
Because Walker’s strong resolve rose up at the best possible time, the final twist of a spectacular season turned in the Wildcats’ favor. The unexpected happened.
To be clear, the unexpected that punctuated the final game had nothing to do with the normal chip-on-the-shoulder crutch a lot of teams lean on. Refreshingly, Walker never once this season played the ‘nobody believed in us’ or ‘everybody doubted us’ cards this season. From the beginning, the Wildcats knew they were elite and didn’t shy away from saying so, and that includes Schiro.
No, the unexpected in this case was the ability to overcome what loomed as a punch-in-the-gut bitter ending. When everything looked lost, Walker found a way.
The Wildcats dug deep for something extra, used the traits that made them so good all along and staged a comeback that not a whole lot of folks would’ve predicted.
Walker’s season was going to hold a special place in school history and the hearts of Wildcat fans regardless of the final game’s outcome. Instead of being left to wonder what-if, though, Walker – all of Walker – will have the best of all memories to hold close.
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