By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
FORT GIBSON – After the first quarter, it looked like the Keys Lady Cougars were going to fall into the consolation bracket of the Old Fort Classic.
Having committed eight turnovers and trailing 9-3 to Class 5A No. 10 Bishop Kelley, the Lady Cougars settled down and rallied for a 37-34 win on Tuesday at Harrison Field House.
“We did a good job of overcoming a lot,” said Keys coach Mickey Duncan. “We’d have maybe a tough offensive possession where we missed a free throw or missed a layup. How do you respond to adversity? You come back with a great play and we did that in the end. That’s growth for our team.”
Keys (7-6) began chipping away after the first eight minutes, mostly because they figured out how to protect the basketball. The Lady Cougars committed only three turnovers in the second period to cut Bishop Kelley’s (6-7) lead to 19-15 heading into the locker room.
“Coach just told us at halftime to keep our heads up,” Jaylee Young said. “He said we had a good chance to beat a great team. We just had to have confidence in ourselves.”
The Lady Cougars took their coach’s words to heart and played a more aggressive defense, forcing eight turnovers in the third period, one of those leading to a Casey Nolan 3-point shot that tied the score at 23-23 with 1:09 remaining. When Ali Nolan banked in a running jumper with 9.2 seconds left, the Lady Cougars had their first lead of the game at 25-23.
Most of the frantic action occurred in the fourth quarter which saw four ties and four leads change. The first tie occurred with 7:13 left when Kristina Ngo went the length of the floor with a steal to knot matters at 25.
The final lead change happened when Sydni Rainbolt nailed a jumper to put the Lady Cougars up 35-34 with 1:21 showing on the clock. Rainbolt and Ngo tied for game-high honors with 12 points each, the only players on either team to finish in double figures.
Bishop Kelley’s next two possessions are what really saved Keys, and it was Young who was the hero. The first trip down, Young reached in and took the ball away from BK’s Leah Cole down in the low post, and making the front end of a one-and-one.
The second one was a carbon copy of the first, but this one occurred with 6.8 seconds and looked as though it would seal the win with the Lady Cougars up 37-34, However, when Ngo was fouled at the buzzer while shooting a 3, by Young, she had a chance to tie the game but missed the first attempt, ending the game.
“(Monday) was a physical game on the road,” Duncan said about the Lady Cougars’ 45-33 win at Vian. “Legs were really, really tired today. Tonight was a playoff situation where you’ve got to come back the second day in a row and they did that.”
And Young viewed this as a chance to turn the season around.
“They’re really good,” she said. “(Monday) we beat Vian and they’re ranked in 3A and Bishop Kelley is ranked in 5A. This is a big boost and hopefully we’ll win on Thursday.”
Keys advances in the winner’s bracket and faces Muldrow at 4:30 p.m. Thursday while Bishop Kelley takes on Inola at 7:20 p.m. Friday in the consolation round. Fort Gibson plays Sand Springs in the other semifinal on Thursday.
Sand Springs 72, Keys 37
The youth and inexperience showed for the Cougars in the second game of the day at Harrison Field House.
The Sandites raced out a 13-0 lead and were never threatened in handing Keys it ninth loss of the season against only one win.
“We’re just struggling right now,” said Keys coach Duane Jones. ”We’re young and I see us at times we do good things and I see us at times do some real young things. Bottom line, we just have to be more consistent.
Sand Springs (5-8) kept the pressure on and held a 22-10 lead after the first quarter and led 39-19 at halftime. Part of the reason for Keys trailing by 20 was shooting 27.2 percent (6 of 22) in the first half, compared to the Sandites’ 48.3 percent (14 of 29), and the other was the Cougars’ 16 turnovers to Sand Springs’ seven.
“Early on, (Sand Springs) was aggressive and we didn’t handle that very well,” Jones said. “I don’t think their size hurt us that much.”
Chance Weir and Coby Ward led Keys with nine points each. Sand Springs had three players finish in double figures with Josh Lattie leading the way with 21 points while Ashton Palmer and Bryce Dunlap had 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Keys meets Bishop Kelley, a 64-41 loser to Stilwell in the final game of the day, at 8:45 p.m. Friday while Sand Springs goes up against Stilwell at 5:50 p.m. Thursday. Fort Gibson’s boys take on Inola in the other semifinal on Thursday.