By Nick Hampton
FORT GIBSON — Early January showdowns between ranked teams aren’t just limited to the gridiron in places like Dallas and New Orleans.
On Friday night at Harrison Field House, four teams ranked in Class 4A’s top 20 squared off in a pair of Verdigris Valley encounters and in the end, Fort Gibson’s squads eeked out victories over Locust Grove.
The girls contest saw the top ranked Lady Tigers move to 6-0 on the season with a come from behind 58-54 win over the Lady Pirates, handing 13th-ranked Locust Grove (4-1) its first loss of the season. It took a clutch basket by Desiree Phipps with 44 seconds to play that broke a 54-54 tie and pair of free throws by Jayme Hill with nine seconds left to ice the game for the Lady Tigers.
Locust Grove charged to an early 14-2 lead, thanks to three 3-pointers by Bailey Holman and seven turnovers committed by Fort Gibson. Savannah Gray and Hill scored five points each in the second quarter as the Lady Tigers cut down on the errors, but still trailed 32-24 at intermission.
That called for some defensive changes by FGHS coach Jerry Walker that led to 16 Locust Grove turnovers.
“In the first half we were getting the shots we wanted but just couldn’t get anything to fall and they had six 3-pointers,” said Walker. “In the second half we went to full court pressure with our guards and turned the heat up.”
Fort Gibson didn’t get the lead until the start of the fourth quarter, then the game see-sawed until the final minute heroics.
Also impacting the outcome was Fort Gibson’s depth.
“Grace Parker came off the bench and really played well. Desiree played well in the second half and Savannah (Gray) was solid the whole night,” Walker said. “She’s the glue on our team and she just kept us in the game,” said Walker.
Added Gray, the team’s lone senior: “I knew I had to step up and be the leader that I’m expected to be. I never doubted we would come back in the game. I know we’ll always come back and win or try our hardest no matter what the score at halftime.”
Phipps was the leading scorer with 10 points while Hill had nine, and Gray, Allie Glover, Susie Kilpatrick and Parker all had eight points. Locust Grove’s Holman led all scorers with 20 points and Madison Davis contributed 17.
Fort Gibson 50,
Locust Grove 46
Tiger postman Stephen Edwards scored the final three points in the last 1:28 of the game to seal the win for sixth-ranked Fort Gibson over the No.16 Pirates.
Fort Gibson trailed most of the evening until finally taking the lead at 40-37 late in the third quarter. The game was tied twice and the Pirates regained the lead at 46-45 with 2:25 left. But a bucket by Jordan London, a basket and a free throw by Edwards and a pair of missed 3-pointers by the Pirates gave the Tigers the victory.
“They’re a good basketball team,” said Tiger coach Gary Hendrix. “They made us work for everything and shot the ball well early, and we had to play from behind until later in the game.
“I think we were a little rusty having not played in a couple of weeks. We missed some shots we might normally make and we did some things that were a little uncharacteristic, but they had a lot to do with that.”
Despite four treys by Locust Grove’s Wyatt Rogers in the first quarter, the Tigers (5-1) kept it close, trailing just 15-14 after the end of the stanza. The Pirates upped the lead to three, 28-25, at halftime and still clung to a three-point lead late in the third until the Tigers went on a 6-0 run to lead by three.
Edwards led the way for Fort Gibson with 17 points while Coleman Crawley added 14 and London had 10. Colton Pike was the leading scorer for Locust Grove (4-1) with 16.
Both Fort Gibson teams return to action next Thursday playing in the Oologah Tournament.