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Ponchatoula boys claim back-to-back state championships

Green Wave down Natchitoches Central, 75-60, in Division I non-select title game

LAKE CHARLES, LOUISIANA - Second-seeded Ponchatoula had a very challenging season as a defending state champion. 

They have took some tough losses and some tough victories.

The Green Wave made it back to the big stage with a chance to become two-time state champions against fifth-seeded Natchitoches Central. The Chiefs brought the fight to the Green Wave throughout the game; however, Ponchatoula’s championship experience rose to the occasion by winning the Division I non-select state title, 75-60, Saturday night at The Burton Complex.

This is Ponchatoula’s second state title in school history. Head coach Thomas Taylor wins his second state title as a head coach at Ponchatoula.

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“I’m so glad that it isn't a burden. I’m so glad the expectation is fulfilled. We didn’t realize how much pressure people put on us and expecting a repeat championship,” said Taylor. “We played everybody’s best game, every game out this year. I’m glad we get to finish what we just finished."

The Green Wave (30-4) went to work in the paint with three consecutive layups by Allen Graves. They took an early 10-4 lead.

Natchitoches Central (29-8) bounced back with a 3-pointer by Logan Smith, cutting the lead to 10-7. The Wave answered with a 3-pointer by Jarvis Labee; then Taj Jackson scored a driving layup, extending the lead to 20-9.

The Chiefs chipped away at the lead, getting within 22-15 after a pair of layups by Camryn Davis and Jaden Braden. The Green Wave answered with a pair of layups by Cory Jackson, extending the lead to 31-23.

Ja’Dell Demery stepped up for the Chiefs with a pair of layups. Natchitoches Central outscored Ponchatoula, 21-11, in the second quarter to cut the Chiefs' lead to one, 31-30, at the half.

“We played an extremely hard-fought game against a really good opponent. To go back-to-back is very difficult. We found out ourselves in 2014-15; we won it in 2014 and we didn’t win it in 2015.” said Natchitoches Central coach Kolton Sepulvado. “We were able to rebound and win it in 2016.

"People think you bring back a lot of players it makes it easy, but it’s not. You have to deal with a lot of different things. Coach Taylor and his staff did an unbelievable job of the preparation and the hard work that it took for them to go win another state championship.”

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Ponchatoula went back to work in the second half with a 7-0 run. Taj Jackson and Jeremiah Lewis scored consecutive layups. Then Lewis knocked down a 3, extending the lead to 38-30.

Natchitoches Central bounced back as Smith knocked down a jumper to get within four, 40-36. The Green Wave answered with a strong layup and three-point play by Graves. Then Taj Jackson used a two-handed slam dunk, extending the lead to 45-36.

Braden kept the Chiefs in the game with consecutive layups, cutting the lead to eight, 52-44. Jackson struck again with a strong layup to put Ponchatoula back up by 10.

Then, the Green Wave put the game out of reach with a pair of layups by Taj Jackson, and Graves brought things home with a two-handed dunk and a strong layup, as Ponchatoula took a commanding 72-58 lead.

“My teammates and coaches told me that I had a big game these last two games,” said Jackson. “I’ll be one of the leading factors and I need to pick it up. They gave me the confidence and I did what I did.”

Ponchatoula had four players scoring in double figures. Graves was the Most Outstanding Player with 19 points, 20 rebounds, eight blocks and two assists. Taj Jackson finished with 24 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, and two assists.

Ponchatoula's Allen Graves was named the Most Outstanding Player after the Green Wave won the Division I non-select title March 9, 2024.

Ponchatoula's Allen Graves was named the Most Outstanding Player after the Green Wave won the Division I non-select title March 9, 2024.

Also, Lewis scored 13 points, three rebounds, and two assists. Cory Jackson scored 11 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Natchitoches Central had two players scoring in double figures. Braden led the Chiefs with 21 points, two assists and two steals. Davis finished with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists.

-- Vashon Jones | @SBLiveLA