By Kenton Brooks
Phoenix Sports Writer
FORT GIBSON – Eufaula certainly had upset on its mind, but Brooke Palmer and the Fort Gibson Lady Tigers made it only an afterthought.
With the score tied at 27-27 at halftime, the senior scored four points in a Lady Tigers’ 9-2 scoring run to start the third quarter en route to a 55-47 victory against the Lady Ironheads in the semifinals of the Old Fort Classic at Harrison Field House on Thursday night.
The win improved Fort Gibson’s record to 17-0. Ranked No. 2 in the Okrankings.com Class 4A poll this week, coach Jerry Walker’s squad seeks to win its ninth straight Old Fort Classic championship when it meets Muldrow (13-3) at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“We came out and played pretty good in third quarter,” he said. “We settled down.”
Eufaula first-year coach Jordan Garner knew it was the difference in the game.
“We held our own until that point,” he said. “Good teams are going to make runs. They made a run and we couldn’t respond to it. I’m proud of our effort, but they’ve won 17 in a row for a reason. They’re really good.”
Palmer didn’t want to take all of the credit for the victory.
“I think we really work together well as a team,” Palmer, who finished with a team-high 24 points, said. “When I feel double-teamed, I pass it to the outside and we usually get a good look for a shot.”
Palmer’s four points padded Fort Gibson’s lead to 36-29 with 3:34 left in the third period. Allie Glover added a couple of 3-pointers in the half and finished with 13 points.
Alyssa Banks topped Eufaula with 24 points, scoring 17 in the first half. The Lady Ironheads fell to 11-5 and will play Hilldale at 4 p.m. Saturday for third place.
Hilldale went from 6:22 until 46.5 seconds left in the final quarter without scoring in falling 58-44 to the Muldrow in the other semifinal.
The Lady Hornets trailed 44-42 after Katie Kirkhart stole the ball and zipped in for a layup with 6:22 left. But the Lady Hornets then fell further behind at 54-42 until Hillary Calvert’s two free throws with 46.5 seconds left in the game cut the deficit to 10 points.
Hilldale coach Scott Hensley respected Muldrow in stifling his Lady Hornets.
“They have tradition of playing hard and tough. That’s what they did,” he said. “When it came down to crunch time, they had more experience than we did.”
In that crunch time, the Lady Hornets (11-6) struggled to score against Muldrow’s zone.
“We just couldn’t make a shot,” freshman Katie Kirkhart said. “We put up the shots and they weren’t going in. The zone hurt us as we didn’t have anybody to drive to the basket. That’s how we score most of our points.”
Kirkhart finished with 14, while Calvert added 12 points.
It will be Muldrow’s second appearance in the finals in last three years. The Lady Bulldogs got 17 points from Alex Butcher and 11 by Erin Edwards.
Zack Lindley wasn’t intimidated by Stilwell 6-foot-9 junior Matt Lea..
The 6-1 Tiger scored a team-high 19 points in helping Fort Gibson topple the Indians 58-53 in the semifinals.
“Zack’s a battler. He’s not real big, but he plays a lot bigger than he is,” coach Gary Hendrix said. “He battles the boards really hard. He played well for us tonight. (Stilwell) is bigger than big, but Zack is good with his right and left hand. He was able to get away from Matt a little bit with his left hand.”
Lindley said he was determined to keep shooting even though he gave up eight inches to Lea.
“When he would block my shots, I tried to put them back in,” he said. “I thought I did all right. I just had to do my part for my team to get the W. That’s what was important.”
Fort Gibson, ranked No. 8 in the 4A poll this week, improved to 14-3 and will play defending tournament champion Muldrow (11-5) for the championship at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Tigers were 9-of-12 from the free-throw line in the final 1:55 to keep their distance against the Indians (10-7). Lindley made four of them.
Jordan London had 15 points and Jordan Hill added 14 for the Tigers.
Lea and Brennan Davis had 13 points each. Chase Littlejohn topped Stilwell with 19 points.
In the other semifinal, the Bulldogs of Muldrow beat the Longhorns of Inola, 79-78 as D’Andre Owens sank the game-winning basket at the buzzer. He finished with 18 points.
Nate Hamilton and Colton Keith also scored 18 points each and Hunter Money added 10.
Inola (11-6) faces Stilwell in the third place game at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
Garrett Glass led the Longhorns with 18 points. Travis Hall had 16, while Taylor Mootry scored 13 and Aaron Davis added 11.