By William Weathers Special to The Natchitoches Times For three quarters seventh-seeded Natchitoches Central had second-seeded Walker right where it wanted in Thursday’s Class 5A state quarterfinal state playoff game. The Lady Chiefs had used their full-court pressure to stifle the Lady Cats’ offensively and freshman J’unti Franklin guard exploded to help her team lead by nine points at halftime and six after three quarters.
Natchitoches Central had either led or was tied for approximately 27 minutes in Thursday’s Class 5A state quarterfinal when Walker answered down the stretch to force overtime where it outscored the Lady Chiefs by nine points for a 62-53 victory. Natchitoches Central (21-9) suffered four of its 30 turnovers in overtime and the Lady Chiefs struggled shooting the ball (24 percent) in the second half and in overtime.
“At the end we still had a chance to close it out and win the game in regulation,” Natchitoches Central coach Nikki Jones said. “We had two turnovers that we didn’t think we were going to have.”
Walker (32-4) missed a shot at the buzzer in regulation to force overtime where the Lady Cats seized momentum a minute later. LSU signee Tiara Young, who scored 10 of her 28 points in overtime, snapped a 49-49 tie with 2:50 to go with a driving layup and following a steal, added a three throw for a 52-49 lead – their biggest of the game at that point.
“We panicked and things snowballed on us,” Jones said. “Those were two big turnovers before overtime, and it may have carried over. No. 23 (Young) kind of took it over, got some easy foul calls and got to the free throw line. Our girls still played hard, but it was deflating.”
Natchitoches Central only took three shots in overtime, making two of them with Franklin accounting for her team’s last field at the 1:52 mark that drew the Lady Chiefs to within 56-51. They never managed to get closer than five points the remainder of the way with Walker closing the game with five unanswered points.
Franklin was spectacular for Natchitoches Central, scoring 16 of her game-high 30 points in the second half with Ty Powell adding 12 and Breanna Williams seven. “She’s an extremely good player,” Jones said of Franklin. “People have done some box-in-one defenses on her and played her tight and it kind of rattled her a bit. We’ve been on her in practice and told her how important she was, and she stepped up.”
Powell scored five straight points midway through the second quarter, enabling Natchitoches Central to break a 15-15 tie and extended their lead to 29-20 at halftime on the strength of an 8-1 run. Walker struggled against Natchitoches Central’s full-court pressure, suffering 10 of its 19 turnovers in the opening half and the Lady Cats were forced to play without Young, who averages 34 points per game, for the entire second quarter after picking up three fouls. Franklin’s three-point play – her team’s lone field goal in 13 attempts – helped Natchitoches Central maintain a 35-29 lead heading into a dramatic fourth quarter that featured a pair of lead changes and two ties – the last one at 47-47 at the end of regulation. “I hate it for the seniors,” Jones said of Caytreonna Brown, Teanna Payton and Breanna Williams.
“We have a good core group coming back. I hope they see what it takes to move on. Teams don’t quit in the playoffs. The further you get, it gets harder and harder.”