Leesville made it harder than it should have been, but the end result is still the same – the Wampus Cats are going to state.
For the first time since 2001, Leesville advanced to the state semifinals with a 58-57 win over No. 7 Plaquemine Friday night.
"It means a lot to these kids," Leesville head coach Troy Grigg said. "I've been there twice. I lost in the semifinals my first year coaching and lost in the finals my third year. Every coach wants to get down there and win a state championship. I made it twice in three years when I was first coaching and haven't been back.
"I was talking to (Robert) Causey today, and I said that everyone wants to go, but I don't want to go for myself. I want it for the kids. They are the ones that worked hard this year and are the ones people had doubt about. They endured practices, my butt chewings and road trips, and they deserve this."
Leading by 3 with 35 seconds to go, Duwon Tolbert ripped away the ball for a steal, but a turnover by Seginald Bryant gave Plaquemine a chance to tie it up with a 3.
The Green Devils hit two free throws to pull within 1 with 14 seconds to go, but another turnover gave Plaquemine another shot.
"I told my brothers that I don't ask them for much but this the last 14 seconds for these seniors in the gym," Leesville guard Carlos Sepulvado said. "I told them to give it their all because you don't what is possible."
However, Jamille Cannon forced a Green Devil turnover, but once again, Plaquemine had another shot to take the lead after gaining possession on a jump ball with 1.6 seconds remaining. The ensuing inbounds pass went out of bounds, and Cannon went to the line after being foul with just over a second to go.
Cannon missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but the Plaquemine full-court heave was off, and the No. 2 Wampus Cats advanced.
"Any time it's a 1-point ball game and you have two teams of that caliber that are battling to go to the next round, there is a lot of luck that goes into it," Grigg said. "There is also a lot of skill that goes into it. Sometimes, it's better to be 60 percent lucky and 40 percent good. We were lucky in a way there. We tried to give it away, and they tried to take it back. It was just two really good ball clubs trying to win the game."
Leesville will take on No. 3 Breaux Bridge next week at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles.
The Wampus Cats led 32-27 at halftime after a back-and-forth first half and opened up the second half on an 8-0 run, capped off with a steal and layup by Deondre Wilson to go up 40-27.
"I just told them at halftime that we have 16 more minutes," Grigg said. "We have to play consistently and play patiently on offense. We have to work the ball, and we don't have to shoot it just because we have the ball. We came out and got some steals and layups."
The Green Devils hit back-to-back 3s in the final minute of the third to close the gap and trail 44-41.
Plaquemine forward Davonte Russ drilled a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to 1 with 1:55 to play, but Duwon Tolbert answered on the other end with a layup.
Leading by 1 with 55 seconds to play, Tolbert blocked a layup which led to a Sepulvado layup on the other end for the last points of the game for Leesville.
"We said from the jump that this is a talented team," Sepulvado said. "We have our ups and downs, but you know that you have a lot of talent and faith in your teammates. It's been a long time coming.
"After we've lost these last two years, I've went and watched it. It's just so crazy. This is something we've wanted for a long time. We worked hard the whole way and ended on a great note. All I have to say is Burton Coliseum, we're going to be there."
Bryant led the Wampus Cats with 16, and Sepulveda added 11 in the win.
"It's our time," Bryant said. "We're making sure we're going out on top."
Tolbert and Cannon each finished with 10 in the win.