BATON ROUGE -- Defense is always an equalizer in basketball. When you are as committed and ferocious to a certain style like the Walker girls are, that equalizer can morph into a game-changer.
The Lady Cats were in a struggle Monday night in their season opener at Episcopal and entered the fourth quarter with more turnovers than points.
But the Walker press, a staple ever since Korey Arnold took over, was a relentless weapon that eventually wore the Lady Knights down.
Sparked by Candace Ellis’ big fourth quarter, the Lady Cats overcame a seven-point deficit with an 18-0 surge on the way to a 37-28 victory.
Ellis scored 15 of her 18 points in the closing 6:45, knocking down 12 consecutive free throws, as Walker (1-0) grabbed control and then choked Episcopal (0-1) like a boa constrictor.
The Lady Knights grabbed command in the third quarter when Kiely Heaslip hit two free throws and Corinne Talbot added two more with no time in the quarter after she was fouled as it expired.
Shannon Ahmad connected on short jump shot from the side of the lane with 7:16 to play for a 20-13 lead, Episcopal’s biggest of the game. Ellis drew a foul and swished her first two free throws of the decisive quarter to close the gap to 20-15.
Walker missed a chance to draw closer when Breanna Zeringue misfired on a 3-pointer, but Lauren Pool snared a defensive rebound on the other end of the floor. From there, the Lady Cats seized the game once and for all.
Ellis buried a 3-pointer from the left wing – her only made field goal of the night and the Lady Cats generated a turnover off the press to get the ball back. Zeringue scored inside on a feed from Asia Garner to knot the score 20-20.
Episcopal lost the ball five more times in a row in the teeth of Walker’s pressure and that changed the game. Ellis hit two more foul shots, Pool scored 4 points in a row on passes from Raven Barze and by the time the Lady Knights finally broke through, they had fallen behind 31-20.
“It’s definitely an equalizer,” Arnold said of his team’s defensive tenacity. “The press keeps you in games when sometimes you shouldn’t be – like (Monday) when you can’t throw the ball in the ocean.
“It can keep you in the game until the offense kicks in. If we can get a team to break for a few minutes, we can score quickly.”
Ellis made sure Walker also scored consistently after three quarters of herky-jerky offense.
The Lady Cats managed only 13 points in the first three periods and missed 14 of 17 floor shots in the second and third quarters.
Walker pulled within 15-13 on Delaney Anderson’s trey with 3:02 to go in the third quarter and then didn’t score the rest of the period.
“We had some silly turnovers that slowed us down, but for the most part, we were getting good shots and they just weren’t falling,” Arnold said. “Not a lot of bad misses. They just weren’t going in. We started driving the ball more against their zone and finished better or got fouled.”
Especially Ellis, who personified the Lady Cats’ adjusted approach.
The 5-foot-5 guard persistently drove inside against Episcopal’s taller inside defenders Tera Snell and Riley Heaslip and drew one foul after another. She wound up 15-of-16 from the stripe to anchor Walker’s 18-for-20 performance as a team.
“I just stay calm,” she said. “Those are easy buckets. Nobody’s there, so it’s just you and the rim.”
As key as Ellis was at the foul line, she also helped set the tone when the Walker defense got revved up and converted turnovers into offense.
All five Lady Cats on the court came up with steals during the Lady Knights’ 6-minute drought and Ellis consistently cut off dribblers and forced bad passes. Once Walker headed the other direction, whenever Ellis got the ball, she made little secret about what she had in mind.
“We did better reading defenders,” she said.
“We stopped taking too many dribbles and passed the ball a lot better.”
The Lady Cats are back in action Wednesday when they play host to East Jefferson.
WALKER 37, EPISCOPAL 28
Walker 5 4 4 24 -- 37
Episcopal 2 7 9 10 -- 28
Walker (37) -- Raven Barze 0 0-0 0, Asia Garner 2 0-0 4, Breanna Zeringue 2 1-2 6, Candace Ellis 1 15-16 18, Victoria Smith 0 0-0 0, Delaney Anderson 1 0-0 3, Lauren Pool 2 2-2 6, Kaitlyn Hayes 0 0-0 0, Brianna Moore 0 0-0 0. Totals 8 18-20 37.
Episcopal (28) -- Tera Snell 5 0-2 12, Hunter Heaslip 0 0-0 0, Shannan Ahmad 4 2-2 10, Sydney Summerville 0 0-0 0, Kiely Heaslip 0 -2 1, Corinne Talbot 1 2-2 5. Totals 10 5-8 28.
3-point goals -- Walker 3 (Zeringue, Anderson, Ellis), Episcopal 3 (Snell 2, Talbot 1). Total fouls – Walker 11, Episcopal 16. Fouled out – H. Heaslip. Records: Walker 1-0, Episcopal 0-1. Up next: East Jefferson at Walker, 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Randy Rosetta is Sports Editor of The Livingston Parish News.
You can reach him at (225) 610.5507 or RandyR@LivingstonParishNews.com.
Follow on Twitter: @RandyRosetta | @LPN_Sports | @LPNews1898