HAMMOND - In a battle of defending state champions, Iota’s Lady Bulldogs proved once again that they are truly the Top Dogs in girls prep basketball.
The top-ranked Lady Bulldogs, 2006-07’s Class AA state champions, completed the journey they set out on at the beginning of the season, pulling off a 60-49 victory over two-time defending AAA champion Capitol Saturday in the Class 3A state championship at Southeastern’s University Center.
The victory capped another remarkable year for the Lady Dogs, who completed the 2007-08 season at 36-4.
Capitol, which had won five state titles over the last seven years, closed out its season at 26-6.
“This is a very incredible feeling,” said Iota coach Stan Baggett following the victory, his 599th as a coach. “For us to repeat, and move up in class, I guess that makes it even more special.
“I just can’t say enough about these young ladies. They kept battling and battling and they left everything on the floor.”
Iota did most of its battling in the paint. The Lady Dogs outrebounded the Lady Lions 40-29, just two nights after Capitol pulled down 50 boards in its semifinal win over St. Louis.
“We did a great job on the boards tonight,” said Baggett, whose team was outrebounded by Marksville Wednesday, 43-34. “We had to block out a more athletic team tonight and we found a way to do it.”
“We knew we had to hit the boards hard this game,” said Catilyn Baggett, who finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds in being named the Game’s Outstanding Player. “We knew they crashed the boards and that if we wanted to win, we would have to block out a lot better than we did Wednesday.”
Those rebounds led to 15 second-chance points for Iota.
However, rebounding wasn’t the only key in the ballgame.
After a non-productive night from beyond the arch in the semifinals, the Lady Dogs connected on eight 3-pointers, two of them at the beginning of the third quarter to push Iota’s lead to 13 at 35-22.
“We knew that we had to start hitting some shots,” said Lindsey Miller. “The drives weren’t working all the time because sometimes they would call fouls and sometimes they wouldn’t. We knew we had to step it up from the outside.”
Miller, who finished with 11 points and four rebounds, hit three long balls on the night and Candace LaCombe dropped in all three of her shots from outside the arch.
Lacombe scored nine points despite missing almost an entire quarter due to foul trouble.
“They made some big shots tonight and I think their ability to shoot the three made a big difference in the game,” said Capitol coach Alvin Stewart. “I think this was a great game between two great teams. I think this was a great championship game.”
That greatness was exhibited by both teams from start to finish.
Capitol led by as many as six in the first quarter before Iota’s Caitlyn Baggett drained a 3-pointer from near half court at the buzzer to give the Lady Dogs a 15-14 lead.
Capitol regained the lead early in the second quarter on a jumper by Angela Farb.
That was the last time the Lady Lions led.
Lindsey Miller hit a short jumper in the lane seconds later and from that point, the Lady Dogs went on a 12-4 run to end the quarter to take a 29-20 lead at the break.
Capitol made a run midway through the third, cutting the lead to 37-30 at the 4:18 mark. But Iota went on a 10-4 run to push the lead back up to 14 at the start of the fourth.
Iota took its biggest lead of the night at 55-40 with 3:37 remaining.
“Not to take anything away from Capitol, because they are a great team, but when we got the lead up to 15 with three minutes left, I was pretty confident,” said Baggett. “By no means did I think the game was over, but with the way we handle the ball, I felt pretty good.”
Ashlyn Baggett followed her twin sister in scoring with 13 points and six rebounds and Angel Simar scored six points and pulled down seven boards.
Iota’s senior class won 225 games and lost just 15 since its fifth-grade season. The group also had three undefeated seasons since then and won two state titles in two different classifications.
“You know when you’re Goliath and you have all these high expectations, it’s tough,” said Baggett. “In a lot of people’s eyes, anything less than a state championship this year and our season would have been a failure. That’s a lot of pressure to put on teenage girls.
But, they stepped up the plate like they always have and they hit home runs all season.”