HOLDEN – The game Doyle and Denham Springs High played for the girls championship of the Livingston Parish Tournament was everything championship games should be.
It wasn’t lacking in intensity and the outcome wasn’t decided until the closing moments.
Presleigh Scott hit a pair of free throws with 2.8 seconds left, sealing a 59-56 win for the top-seeded Lady Tigers over second-seeded DSHS.
But the Lady Tigers’ Meghan Watson may have summed it up best after Doyle captured its first parish title since 1997.
“This is the best day of my life, the best day of my life,” said Watson, who will turn 18 on Monday. “I’m not lying when I say this.”
While Watson was celebrating the win, Doyle coach Sam White praised her team’s effort in the title game.
“We knew this game with Denham was going to be close,” she said. “(Denham coach Blake) Zito does a great job, and Kate (Thompson) can really, really play, but Elise (Jones) does a phenomenal job guarding their best player every night, and together we just made this work. We fought. There were so many lead changes – I don’t even know how many there were, but you make sure you’re on top when that final buzzer sounds.
“I am proud of them,” White said of her team. “Every single person on that team does their job, and I mean every single person. I’m super proud. It’s been a long time, and it feels good.”
Zito praised the effort of both teams.
“Hat’s off to Doyle and Coach Sam and everything that they do,” Zito said. “They’re the one seed for a reason. I thought they were the best team on paper, and then our girls really met the challenge. When the kids rise to the occasion and play the way they did, it’s hard to be upset.”
Denham Springs led 52-49 on Kennedy King’s free throws with 4:51 left in the game, but Scott scored four straight points to put the Lady Tigers ahead 53-52.
King then missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Doyle’s Jones came down with the rebound and hit a layup for a 55-52 lead before Trenishia Muse’s basket cut the lead back to a point.
Jones missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Denham’s Libby Thompson pulled down the rebound. Maddie Howell fed the ball to Kate Thompson after a DSHS timeout, but she missed a shot, and Doyle grabbed the rebound.
“I mean honestly, I thought it was in,” said Thompson, who finished with 12 points, including eight in the third quarter. “I shoot that shot I don’t know how many times. It was the right play, right spot, they couldn’t guard it. It just didn’t fall.”
That enabled Scott to hit a pair of free throws with 41 seconds left for a 57-54 Doyle lead.
King missed a shot, and Doyle got the ball back on a jump ball, but with Watson under pressure under the goal, Denham got the ball on a jump ball.
King then missed a pair of 3-point attempts, and Jones was fouled. She missed the front end of a one-and-one, which Muse rebounded and converted into a basket, cutting the lead to 57-56 with 4.8 seconds to play.
“We ran some plays in to get threes, and man we executed perfect,” Zito said. “The shot was there. As a coach, that’s all I’m asking for. I’m asking them to go out and do what we talked about in the huddle, and that’s what they did. Whether the ball goes in or not, I don’t get upset about that type of stuff.”
Scott was fouled on the in-bounds pass and sank both free throws to cap the scoring.
“Definitely this is not one of my (best) games, but that’s OK,” said Scott, who finished with 19 points with eight in the fourth quarter. “That’s what other teammates are for. Like I said before, we take each other’s slack, and I’m just really glad that we got to show the people what we’re capable of …”
The first quarter featured four lead changes and one tie before Denham Springs emerged with a 15-14 edge. Maddie Howell hit two of her four 3-pointers in the first quarter for Denham and Muse added another for the final basket of the quarter.
From there, Scott, Libby Thompson and Doyle’s Kourtlyn Lacey connected on 3-pointers, with each one changing the lead, with Lacey’s giving the Lady Tigers a 20-18 edge.
There were two more ties and three lead changes, with Denham taking a three-point lead twice – the last at 30-27 – before Doyle closed on a 4-0 burst to lead 31-30 at halftime.
Doyle also didn’t commit a foul in the first half.
“That put us in a great position to be able to really get after it in the first half, so I was thrilled,” White said. “It helped tremendously. We did talk before the game about not fouling and playing solid defense and ‘hands up, don’t swat’, because we’ve struggled with that a little bit. It’s important for us to keep players in the game, and we were able to do it.”
Denham opened the third quarter on a 7-1 run that was capped by Howell’s 3-pointer for a 37-32 lead.
“We knew that defensively we were going to do things that they weren’t used to,” Zito said. “We weren’t going to play full court and let them play how they want to play and let them get in transition and all that. We felt like we did accomplish what we were trying to accomplish.”
Doyle clawed back again with Jones capping an 8-0 run with a pair of baskets, the last on a steal and layup, for a 40-37 lead.
“My role is to just play really good defense and cause turnovers, and when you see opportunities where you steal the ball, I just get it and either push it up the floor to my teammates, or if I see the open basket, I’m just going to go,” said Jones, who had 17 points with seven coming in the third quarter. “That’s the whole game plan that we had (Saturday).”
Muse countered with a 3-pointer to tie it at 40 before Watson’s three-point play and a Howell 3-pointer knotted the game at 43. Howell finished with 12 points, all on 3-pointers.
“We knew that this was going to be a very tough game,” said Watson, who finished with 16 points. “We just knew that we were going to have to fight like we always do. We have a lot of chemistry on our team, and we’re all very close, and I feel like that helps a lot, but we all wanted it so bad, and I think that’s what judged the outcome of the game.”
Doyle led 47-43 on a basket by Jones before Kate Thompson’s jumper cut the lead to 47-45 heading into the fourth quarter.
Muse, who scored 10 of her 22 points in the fourth quarter, hit an inside basket to tie the game at 47 and later scored four straight points in a run that put Denham up 52-49.
“It wasn’t a good game for me,” Muse said. “I was just trying to take it in, get easy layups and get easy buckets so we can pull away from them, but we came up short.”
Zito said he’s hoping the game will help his team down the line.
“I kept telling them all season so far, if we just keep improving, keep improving, we’re going to be a really good team, and we’re on that track,” he said. “My head’s high. I’m super proud of our girls …”