It looked like Faith Training Christian Academy would cruise to a state title appearance early in its semifinal matchup.
However, Christian Home Educators Fellowship came back from a double-digit deficit to make it a ball game.
The Lady Patriot defense came up with big stops, and the offense hit shots on the other end late in the fourth to give them the 49-46 win Friday afternoon at home.
"It feels great," FTCA head coach Walter Young said. "I told the girls that most years, the semifinal games have been pretty easy games. This year, I knew it was going to be a dogfight. I knew it would be that way. To win a close game like that is a great feeling."
The win puts the Lady Patriots in the Association of Christian Educators of Louisiana (ACEL) State Championship game, which will be played 6:30 p.m. Saturday against Southwest Louisiana Homeschool on the Faith Training Christian Academy campus.
"We haven't hosted it in eight years, and the good thing about it is that you feel comfortable shooting in your own gym," Young said. "That helps the girls as far as play goes. We've been playing at places like ULM or Burton Coliseum. When you're a small league like us that may sit 400 people, and you're in a 7,000-person stadium, you feel small. The atmosphere is not there. If you were at the game today, it felt like a big-time district game between Hicks and Anacoco. Therefore, all the passion that is there, and the kids feed off of it."
FTCA led 12-1 after the first quarter with its defense leading to easy buckets on offense.
However, CHEF would erase the deficit quickly, going on an 8-0 run to start the second. CHEF found success from deep, hitting shots five or six feet behind the 3-point line.
"I tried to convince them to play the second quarter like a 0-0 game," Young said. "I know that's hard to do. They made some deep 3s, so I wasn't too concerned at first. What concerned me the most was our offensive drop off in most of the second quarter. We played them earlier in the season and it was a 10-point game. We knew they could score.
"When kids are making 24-25-foot shots, and they are seventh and eighth graders, you have to let them keep shooting it."
CHEF took its first lead of the game at the 7:34 mark of the third quarter and extended its lead to 33-27 with just over two minutes to play in the third.
FTCA guard Tinsley Blakeney hit a 3-pointer and a hook shot in the paint to cut the lead to 1 at the end of the period.
A layup by FTCA guard Keira Henry tied it 38 with 3:46 to play, and FTCA extended its lead to 41-38 after a putback by Blakeney.
Leading 47-44 with 18 second to play, Kylie Fleshmen split a pair of free throws to make a 4-point game. Henry came up with a steal on the other end and hit a free throw to ice the game.
"I ended up coaching that game more than I do most," Young said. "I have a lot of faith in my team. My point guard, Kylie Fleshmen, is a really good play caller and handles that well. Tinsley Blakeney is always who we go to for a basket to stop a run."
Henry led the Lady Patriots with 17 points, and Blakeney added 14. Fleshmen finished in double figures with 10 points.
FTCA is playing host to the ACEL State Tournament for the first time in almost a decade. The FTCA Junior Varsity will take on CHEF at 4 p.m. for the JV State Championship on Saturday.
"Our goal is to win both," Young said. "The hard part is that we will get a majority of the CHEF team on that JV team. Managing the minutes for the girls playing varsity and junior varsity will be the hardest part of that."