That moment occurred with 4:28 left in the fourth quarter.
With Iota trailing 49-45, senior guard Allison Baggett drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key to get the Lady Dogs within one point of their first lead since the 5:43 mark of the first quarter.
It was the shot that changed the course of the game.
“When the shot left my hand, I knew it was going in,” said Baggett, who pumped her fist as the shot went through the net. “I don’t mean to sound cocky, but as soon as it went in, I knew we were going to win the game.
“I knew we were still down by one at that point and there was a lot of time left, but I just felt like that was the game changer.”
Her intuition was spot on.
Baggett scored nine more points in the final minutes as Iota went on a 11-4 run and rallied for a dramatic 59-53 victory that sends the Lady Dogs to the Class 2A state championship game next week against No. 2 seed John Curtis in Ruston.
“They (Pickering) were up 49-45 and when Allison hit that three, it looked like the panic hit them,” said Iota coach Stan Baggett. “When we went on that run, I don’t think they ever recovered.”
Allison Baggett scored 18 of her game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter. She hit one 3-pointer, dropped in four baskets on runners in the lane and went 7-for-10 from the free throw line in the final eight minutes.
“In the fourth quarter, we kind of relaxed a little bit and (Allison) Baggett got hot,” said Pickering coach Vickie Sketoe, whose team finished the season with a record of 27-4. “She just caught fire. We weren’t scoring on the other end and she was. And when we had to start fouling, that was who got fouled every time.”
Iota, which trailed by as many seven early in the fourth quarter, took over defensively in the final eight minutes and limited Pickering to just four made shots from the floor. The Lady Devils hit three of their eight shots inside the arch and hit just one of five shots from beyond.
“We just couldn’t score,” said Sketoe of the fourth quarter. “We took too many quick shots. We just didn’t do what we were supposed to do and we started shooting the ball every time we got our hands on it.”
Iota took advantage of Pickering’s misfires and cleaned the glass for seven defensive rebounds. The Lady Dogs outrebounded Pickering 11-5 in the fourth quarter and 36-20 overall.
Freshman McKenzie Armand did most of the damage on the boards. She picked up four of her nine rebounds in the final period.
“McKenzie played so well tonight,” said Baggett of Armand, who also scored 12 points. “She just had great composure. She’s been around sports her whole life and she’s battle tested. She doesn’t let things bother her.
“I put her in there and told her she’s not coming out and she came through big-time, there’s no doubt about it.”
Dominiqua Thomas also came through in the clutch. The senior guard scored nine points and had six rebounds, two blocks and one steal.
More impressively, she held Pickering standout Samantha Thomas scoreless in the second quarter and was a thorn in her side the entire night. After rotating defensive players on Samantha in the third quarter and early in the fourth, Dominiqua guarded her for the final six minutes and limited her to just two points.
“Dom did a great job on Thomas,” said Baggett. “She (Samantha) did score 27 but Dom gave her problems. She’s just a phenomenal player. ”
“I just tried to stay close to her,” said Dominiqua. “But not too close because she will just drive around you.”
Early in the game, Samantha Thomas was difficult to stop. She poured in 10 points in the first quarter and Pickering was able to mount a 20-10 lead. The Lady Devils led by as many as 12 in the second quarter but Iota went on a 10-0 run midway through the frame to cut the lead to one (24-23).
Aaliyah Sheppard helped Pickering avoid a total meltdown by scoring the final four points of the frame to give the Lady Devils a 28-25 lead at the break.
“We were down 12 at one point,” said Baggett, whose team was hindered by seven turnovers in the first half. “We looked like we were in panic mode and we just weren’t relaxed. We made a lot of mistakes but we settled down in the middle of the second quarter.
“I felt like Pickering should have been up a lot more (at the half) compared to the way we played. But I felt pretty good at halftime.”
Pickering pushed its lead to four on three separate occasions in the third quarter but Iota was able to get within one (40-39) following Dominiqua Thomas’ driving layup just before the buzzer.
The victory was also a bit of sweet revenge for the Lady Dogs, who were ousted from the playoffs in the second round last year by Pickering, 50-38.
“This was pretty great,” said Iota senior guard Adalie Wriborg, who dished out three assists and had three rebounds on the night. “Last year they are the ones that knocked us out and it really feels good that we were able to come through tonight and win it.”
Iota seniors Caroline Hebert and Anna Lege also contributed in the victory. Hebert scored four points, had four rebounds and two assists while Lege also had four points and five rebounds.
Freshman Taylor Deville didn’t score but she grabbed three big rebounds and had one block.
Drucilla Rudolp had 13 points and seven rebounds for Pickering. Sheppard followed with six points while freshman twins Ashley and Amy McKellar had five and two, respectively.
For coach Baggett, Friday’s victory sends him to the state championship game for the fourth time in the last seven years.
“This is just overwhelming,” said Baggett of the victory. “It’s a great feeling. It’s been four years since we’ve been in the finals. We were in it three years in a row and then we took a little three-year break, but now we’re back and I’m just beyond proud of what these young ladies were able to accomplish tonight.”