A massive turnaround season for the Destrehan Ladycats came to an end Monday night as result of an 80-57 loss to Zachary in the second round of the Division I non-select girls basketball playoffs – but not before the Ladycats scored a victory just days before that few would have expected prior to this season.
Destrehan’s 56-47 victory at home over Airline was, in many ways, the exclamation point on a season that saw DHS leap from a 9-12 record in 2021-22 to a 23-7 mark this time around. It was the first playoff victory since Destrehan’s state championship 2016-17 season and was the first home playoff game for the Wildcats since that time as well – Destrehan entered the postseason with the 13th seed in the bracket, Airline the 20th.
DHS did not roll over against a favored Zachary squad in round two either, for that matter. The Wildcats led 47-46 in the third quarter before the host Broncos, the 4th seed in D-I, pulled away down the stretch and advanced to the quarterfinal round to face No. 5 Ponchatoula.
In her first season as the Wildcats’ head coach, Twalla Powell led her club to exceed expectations – including, perhaps, their own.
“Getting to the playoffs was the goal our players set before the season. I don’t know that they ever dreamed we’d make it to the second round,” Powell said. “They were ecstatic and it really was like icing on the cake. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
The victory over Airline was possible in part due to a very strong performance from senior Alliyah Wells, who has been a defensive force all season for Destrehan. But against Airline, she asserted her offensive game in a large way.
“It was her best game of the season … they say it was the best game she’s played in her career here,” said Powell. “She’s always aggressive on the boards and on the defensive end for us, but I told her before the game that for us to win this kind of big game, she needed to be aggressive on offense. And she went out there with confidence … it felt like she hit every shot. She attacked the basket.”
Powell added that she thought Wells was one of a group of seniors who truly embraced the opportunity to win a playoff game for the first time.
“It was a chance to leave everything out there,” Powell said.
Likewise, Destrehan planned for the Airline attack well prior to tip-off. A physical, downhill team that scores in the paint in bunches, Airline was forced into shooting more from the outside as the game went on as DHS packed the paint.
“I thought our endurance was key as well. We had the stamina and that helped us really take control of the game in the second half,” Powell said.
While the Zachary game did not see Destrehan earn the win, the Wildcats certainly threw a scare into their higher-seeded foe.
“We lost steam after we took the lead in that third quarter, and they took over from there,” Powell said. “Our motto is to play hard, play smart and play together our team truly did that, even in the end.”
Senior Amber Harp came up big in the postseason, Powell noted. Harp and Wells will be two seniors who the Wildcats won’t have back next season – ditto for reserve guard Victoria Byrd, who Powell said demonstrated valuable leadership all season long and Selah Johnson, who upped her play more and more as the season rolled on.
The team will miss them, but there is a strong returning core including All-District selection A’maya Armstrong, who shined in her freshman season, point guard Koi Ursin and fellow guard Chelsea Dangerfield, who herself had a tremendous game to help lift the Wildcats over Airline. They are just three of a large, talented core – and the incoming freshman class is expected to be a strong one as well.
“It should only get better from here,” Powell said.