Warner triggers Vikings in win over Port Barre

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 7, 2003

VIDALIA, La. &045; Laissez les bon temps roulet.

If you’re a little shoddy with your Cajun French vocabulary in these parts it’s understandable.

But, undoubtedly Vidalia basketball fans will have the phrase, which in English translates &uot;Let the good times roll!&uot; memorized when they join their Vikings at next week’s Top 28 tournament in Lafayette at the Cajundome.

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Vidalia (25-6) packed its bags for the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s basketball championships by pulling away from Port Barre (18-13) in the final three minutes for a, 71-65, Class 2A quarterfinal victory.

In the process, Vidalia denied the Red Devils &045; district 6-2A’s champion &045; the chance to claim the elusive football and basketball state titles in the same school year.

&uot;Yeah we won tonight and we’re going to the Top 28, but we don’t want to lose from here on out,&uot; said Vidalia guard Tony Hawkins, who contributed 13 points while battling flu symptoms. &uot;We want to keep on playing and keep on winning.&uot;

Despite losing post Marvin White late in the third when he fouled out on a technical foul, the Devils hung tough with Vidalia early into the fourth period.

Daniel Francis, an LSU football signee who led Port Barre with 20 points, hit a 3-pointer with 7:13 to go to notch the game at 52-all.

The Vikings, the runner-up from district 3-2A, built their lead to as many as five, 61-56, when David Wilson was left wide open underneath for the layup.

&uot;All year long we’ve been down and had to play catch up,&uot; Devils head coach William Davis said. &uot;This is a great bunch of seniors that never wanted to let the team down. They fought ’til the end.&uot;

Port Barre cut the margin to a bucket when Chris Keys buried a trey from the left corner in front of his own bench with 3:08 left.

However, that was the last field goal the Devils scored the rest of the way.

When 6-foot-4 Louis McNulty headed to the charity stripe with 47.7 seconds left, seniors Francis and Keys could no longer hold back the tears as as they knew they would be denied a second straight trip to the Cajundome.

&uot;Anytime you lose a game of this magnitude it’s going to hurt,&uot; Davis said. &uot;The guys hung in there throughout the year. I know they wanted to go back, but unfortunately we fell short.&uot;

All five starters scored at least 9 points for the Devils, with Keys finishing with 12 and White 9.

But that was the only contribution Port Barre got, whereas the Vikings received a moderate amount of bench help.

An emotional Ajay Warner led all scorers with 23 points. As time clicked away and the icing had already been laid on the cake, Warner squatted at half court, soaked in the moment and gave thanks humbly.

&uot;I expected us to be here from the start of the season. It was just a matter of getting to this point,&uot; Warner said. &uot;I prayed and prayed for this win and we did it.&uot;

Warner’s continued success is a result of long hours put in over the summer where he shot baskets for two hours just after the sun rose and then for two more as dusk approached.

He knew if he accepted the role of a leader and the burden that came with it, he and his teammates would uncover success.

&uot;I’ll enjoy this tonight and have some fun with my friends,&uot; Warner said. &uot;We’ll think about the semifinals Sunday and Monday.&uot;

Vikings head coach Robert Sanders said he could not have been happier to have Warner on the court when McNulty and Hawkins went to the bench in early foul trouble.

The Vikings had built a 23-11 lead 30 seconds into the second period on the strength of a 13-0 run.

With McNulty and Hawkins riding pine, the Devils pushed back on a 10-0 surge to get within one, 25-24, with 4:16 to go before the break.

&uot;We had to have a leader out there on the floor for us and, like he’s done all year, Ajay was there,&uot; Sanders said. &uot;I’ve seen this team &045; all of them &045; grow from the first game until now.

&uot;They’ve come around quite a bit and it’s a perfect time for it.&uot;