ZACHARY – With the ultimate prize in District 4-5A off the table, the Denham Springs Lady Jackets have to turn their attention to the next best thing.
Behind an aggressive, pressing defense and red-hot shooting performance, host Zachary gained a share of the district title with a 59-36 victory Tuesday over Denham Springs in a matchup of undefeated league teams.
That leaves the Lady Jackets (17-9, 3-1) with two days to pick up the pieces and look toward to Friday’s regular-season finale at Live Oak.
“Coming into this game I was feeling good about it,” Denham Springs senior Kate Thompson said. “We game-planned a lot and came up with some defenses. I thought we were really prepared for the game and came out and they hit a bunch of shots. There was nothing we could really do. They were defending really well also. We have to move past it and focus on Live Oak.”
Zachary (24-5, 4-0) tied the game at 2-all in the first minute of play and proceeded to go on a 17-0 run, the product of forcing Denham Springs into nine turnovers and burying three 3-pointers in building a 22-6 advantage.
To compound matters, the Lady Jackets lost the services of Thompson who picked up two quick fouls in the first three minutes of play. The Lady Broncos, the state’s No. 5 team in the latest Class 5A power ratings, turned an 8-2 lead into a 16-point cushion during Thompson’s absence.
“We put ourselves in a hole,” said Denham Springs coach Blake Zito, whose team held a No. 9 power rating going into the game. “We got them in foul trouble early. That was great but they were smelling blood at that point, so they weren’t going to back off. They kept coming and padded the lead.”
Zachary maintained its intensity, extending its lead to 30-10 on Zoa Adams’ 3-pointer from the corner at the 5:23 mark and the Lady Broncos continued to make life difficult for Denham Springs’ offense which was 3-of-14 (21.4%) from the field and committed 17 of 22 turnovers in the first half.
“We executed to a T,” Zachary coach Tami McClure said. “They knew their assignments. They knew what we wanted to do pressing wise and all-around we did a great job.”
The Lady Jackets were forced to play the last two minutes without Thompson, who picked up her third foul, enabling the Lady Broncos to score the six points and take a 40-12 lead into halftime.
“I’m used to it, it’s something I’ve had to deal with this past season,” Thompson said of foul difficulties. “I didn’t know what to do. I came out and it was two fouls in a row. I was playing good defense. I came back in having to play really smart. It’s hard getting in a hole that early and to come back, but we did.”
Zachary made three of its 10 3-pointers during the third quarter and increased its lead to 52-21 with 1:12 showing on a 3-pointer from Osha Cummings.
Cummings, a Northwestern State signee, led the Lady Broncos with 18, Nicholls State signee Krystin Green added 13 and Adams had 10.
“They shot it really well and we knew if they did that, it was going to be tough for us,” Zito said of Zachary, which shot better from behind the arc (56%) compared to 34% from two-point range.
The third and final 3-pointer from Cummings boosted Zachary’s lead to 56-21 with 6:57 remaining when Thompson scored nine of her team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter before fouling out with a 1:09 left in the game. Trenishia Muse added seven and Kennedy King had six.
“I don’t think they’re 20-something points better than us every night,” Zito said. “But they were 20-something points better in this game. They beat us in every phase of basketball.”