RUSTON — Winded and short-handed after a typhoon of fouls had wiped out most of the starting lineup, the Ouachita Lady Lions did what they had done the last four days — they kept fighting.
In the end, Natchitoches Central overcame a big fourth-quarter deficit and won 65-60 in overtime Sunday at Ruston High School.
Ebone Burton nailed a running 3-pointer at the end of regulation to force overtime, and the Lady Chiefs kept up the pressure and powered their way to victory.
Burton made 9 of 10 free throws in overtime to put NCHS out in front.
The game changed completely with 7:03 to play in the fourth when Ouachita senior guard T’Erika Bell fouled out of the game.
Two more Lady Lion starters would foul out before the game was over, and the Lady Chiefs took full advantage of the swing in momentum and overcame a 10-point deficit entering the fourth quarter.
“Once (Bell) went out, things changed,” Ouachita coach John Merritt said. “All you had to do was look at the personnel we had out there. But, it was also good for our bench players to get this experience before the playoffs.”
The win gave Natchitoches Central (24-6) the full-point bonus in power ranking for the playoffs. Brackets will be released this afternoon, and the first round will be held on Thursday.
Ouachita (27-5), the overall No. 1 team in the state in the kenramsey.com unofficial power rankings, will remain the top seed and Natchitoches Central likely will remain the No. 10 seed, but could move up. Ouachita receives a half-point boost in its power ranking for finishing second in district.
Even though the power points might not have meant anything to the two teams, Merritt and his team never blinked when faced with the option to concede the full point to NCHS and not play Sunday.
“I wanted to play this game, no doubt,” Merritt said. “And our girls, too, were unanimous.”
The Lady Chiefs, coming off a state runner-up finish last season, were keen on playing it through to the end as well, to prove the program still belonged with the best in the state.
“When we graduated so many girls last year, it was important to this team to come out and win,” said NCHS first-year coach Nikki Jones, who succeeded her mentor, Emma Boozman, who retired following last season. “It meant a lot to them to keep fighting, and to win today.”
Princess Cohen scored 18 points to lead Natchitoches Cental while Gabriella Cortez added 17 and Burton poured in 15.
Jaleah Turner scored 21 points to lead Ouachita and Daja Chase added 20 for the Lady Lions.