LAKE CHARLES – Dejected looks. Blank stares. Solemn locker room.
This wasn’t the conclusion Walker High had envisioned, not after being in control of Saturday’s Class 5A state championship game for three-plus quarters.
A year after making school history with their first state title, the Wildcats were attempting to do something that hadn’t been accomplished on the Class 5A level in six years.
To have it within your grasp, made the realization or the moment even more difficult to comprehend.
Instead of being able to rely on another dramatic finish to another state championship, No. 3 Walker High found the roles reversed and it was No. 1 Thibodaux that went on a 10-0 run over the last 1:28 of the game, taking a 70-60 victory for its first state crown.
“A couple of shots late go down for us, it could be a different story,” Walker coach Anthony Schiro said. “Thibodaux’s a great team. They only lost two games all year long. Those guys did a great job and kept coming at us. I thought we did a good job of going back at them, but ultimately it just wasn’t our night.”
Walker (28-10) led for all but 27 seconds of the first three quarters, taking a 46-40 lead into the fourth quarter.
That’s where Thibodaux (33-2), which finished the season on a 19-game win streak, caught fire and outscored Walker 30-14 in the final quarter.
The Tigers went on an 8-2 run to tie the game for the first time at 48-48 on Kobi Johnson’s three-point play following a turnover with just under five minutes to play.
The lead changed hands twice over a 1 minute, 7 second span when the Wildcats recaptured a 58-55 lead on six straight points from Brian Thomas.
Thibodaux retook the lead at 60-58 on a free throw from Rashad Winslow before Walker’s Jalen Cook tied it one final time with a driving layup with 1:42 remaining.
Thibodaux’s championship-clinching run began with three free throws for a 63-60 lead with 1:13 to play, and when Cook missed a potential tying 3-pointer with a minute to play, the Tigers scored on a put back where they had a 17-9 advantage on second chance points over the Wildcats.
“In the fourth quarter, we missed a couple of shots and they took the lead,” Thomas said. “Then we regained the lead but after that they took it back and we couldn’t get it back. We couldn’t hit shots and get over the hump.”
Thibodaux also converted 5-of-6 free throws in the last 36.2 seconds that added to their overall total of 24-of-31 for the game compared to Walker’s 18-of-22.
“Other than that, I thought we controlled the game the first three quarters,” Schiro said. “We did a good job and held them in check the best we could. They’ve got some guys that can shoot the ball and they started to get hot, making shots and getting to the rim. That last push they made was just too much for us overcome.”
Walker was 5-of-15 in the final quarter and made shot 36 percent (19 of 53) for the game.
Thomas scored 20 of his game-high 29 points in the opening half, while Cook added 19 on 6-of-18 shooting – including 0-for-6 from 3-point range.
“They did good defensively,” Cook said. “We just didn’t knock down shots we normally hit. In the fourth quarter they made a big push. We just couldn’t get over the hump. They played a good game.”
Thibodaux featured a balanced attack with four players reaching double figures led by Kobi Johnson’s 18 points. Marvin Robertson, who missed the majority of the third quarter with foul trouble, scored 12 of his 13 points in the final quarter.
“Hats off to them for not folding,” Schiro said. “We missed some shots that I thought could change the complexion of the game, maybe would have pushed our lead out a bit. But when we didn’t. I thought Thibodaux did a good job of taking advantage of that.”
Thomas’ free throw less than a minute into the third quarter resulted in a 38-30 lead – Walker’s biggest of the game which coincided with Thibodaux losing the services of Robertson and Johnson with three fouls apiece.
Despite losing two of its season’s scoring leaders, Thibodaux never buckled and rallied from a six-point deficit going into the fourth quarter to tie the game at 48-all at the 4:57 mark.
“They were relentless,” Schiro said. “They kept coming and they could score in bunches.
After being limited to seven points in Thursday’s semifinal, Thomas erupted for 20 first-half points, including 4-of-4 shooting from 3-point range, to help the Wildcats lead 37-30 at halftime.
The Wildcats twice built leads of seven points in the second quarter, including a highlight-reel alley-oop from Cook to Thomas who finished with a thunderous slam dunk, bringing Walker’s faithful in the crowd its feet and forced Thibodaux to call timeout.
Thibodaux closed to within a point at 29-28 with 1:53 showing before halftime with a 9-3 run that featured a pair of 3-pointers from Rashod Robinson and a three-point play from Johnson.
Thomas put a personal stop to Thibodaux’s momentum with back-to-back 3-pointers and Cook added a pair of a free throws after getting fouled following his own shot with one second before halftime.
“The ball just didn’t go our way a couple of times and Thibodaux took advantage and did what they needed to do to win the game,” Schiro said. “That was two great basketball teams right there. Unfortunately for us, Thibodaux came out with the win.”