The Destrehan Wildcats are undefeated state champions.
The first state basketball championship in school history was cemented into reality Saturday night, as the No. 3 seeded Wildcats outlasted No. 1 seed Barbe 62-57 in the Class 5A state championship game.
It was the third trip for Destrehan to the state basketball tournament in the past four years, and after years of near misses, this Destrehan team can call itself state champions.
DHS coach Angi Butler, who was coaching the final prep game of her 20-year career, likes the sound of that.
“Oh my gosh, when you say the words state champs, it tells you everything you need to know. You're the best in the state,” Butler said. “I knew these girls were the best team, it was just a matter if we were gonna step up and prove ourselves today. I'm so, so super proud of them. This was four years in the making.”
“If you remember, three years ago, I stood here and said we’re coming back. Mark my words, there will be a different outcome. The third time’s the charm and here we are, state champs.”
The Wildcats were led by Cara Ursin, who earned the game’s Outstanding Player award after the senior wrapped up her prep career with a 27 point, 11 rebound, six assist effort.
“This is a feeling you can’t really explain,” Ursin said. “When the clock hits zero and we were up … what do you do? We won, after four years of falling short, we finally won, and didn’t only win the state championship but we went undefeated. That speaks volumes. It’s hard to really tell you how I feel. You’d have to be in this position.”
Jerlicia Morris scored 15 and Brandi Mason scored 12 to round out three double-digit Destrehan scorers.
Destrehan (35-0) trailed by three in the fourth quarter before Ursin tied the game at 52, first with a shot in the lane and then making 1 of 2 at the line. Ursin missed the second of those free throws but chased down the rebound, throwing the ball off a Barbe (30-4) player out of bounds to save possession. She drove and found Mason underneath, who drew a foul and sank two free throws to put her team up two with 2:46 left to play.
A putback by Ursin 40 seconds later gave Destrehan a four-point lead with just over two minutes left.
With less than 20 seconds left, Barbe scored and called time out with Destrehan leading 60-57. A frantic scramble after the inbounds pass saw the Buccaneers steal the ball and have a chance to tie, but Destrehan returned the favor, forcing a miss. Kiki Kenner came down with the rebound, fought through a double team and passed it downcourt to a wide open Morris, who laid the ball in for two as time expired.
Barbe was paced by a balanced effort of five players – Brandi Williams, Bailey Wilson, Ashlyn Poole, Divine Tanks and Koko Daniels – that each finished with between 10 and 12 points.
The Buccaneers' size and matching skill made them one of the most formidable challenges of the season for Destrehan. Barbe pulled down 21 offensive rebounds in the game and outrebounded the Wildcats 40-31. Tanks was the biggest factor there: the center finished her night with eight of those offensive boards and 18 rebounds in total.
Neither team ever truly shook the other. Destrehan led by one after the first quarter and by three at halftime. The fourth quarter began with the teams tied at 44.
Morris got Destrehan ignited to begin the fourth by sinking a 3-pointer from the wing.
But while the Wildcats garnered some early momentum, they had to navigate treacherous waters when it came to foul trouble. Ursin was whistled for her third and fourth fouls early in the fourth quarter – including one on a charge call that negated a basket – and had to guard against earning a fifth and disqualifying call.
“I had to alter my game and do what my coach and my team needed me to do so we could get the win,” Ursin said. “But you have to be fearless. I play smart. I'm not gonna jump over someone’s head or run into somebody on offense. But I wasn’t gonna let them get the easy layup.”
One of a group of six senior players who have played with one another for years, Ursin said she wouldn't change a thing about the end of their run, which saw this senior group go 122-8 over their four years together.
“I’m so thankful,” Ursin said. “I don’t think it could have went any better.”