By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
They’re going back, again with a mulligan in their pocket, as a group that didn’t have the expectations of being there.
But here they are, this underclass-heavy Muskogee Lady Roughers squad with one returning starter from a year ago, riding into the Class 6A East Area finals on the wheels of a 59-58 overtime regional championship victory Saturuday at home against Union that was every bit the drama the final score indicated.
That lone returning starter came up big.
Sophomore Aaliyah Wilson had a game-high 24 points to go with 11 rebounds and five blocked shots. Her free throw with 7.8 seconds left proved to be the difference when Taylor Madison’s jumper from just inside the 3-point circle for Union at the buzzer bounced hard off the glass.
“This is satisfying,” said Muskogee coach Doyle Rowland, whose 2012-13 team was eliminated by Union in the area consolation finals with a second consecutive state berth on the line. This group, ranked eighth in 6A, has won two straight from the Lady Redskins this year after losing at Union in January.
“We knew this would be a war and our girls were up to it. (Assistant coach) Aaron Daniels told me in the off-season, “coach, we got our work cut out and I said yeah, we really do.’ Then one time this summer we saw them play like this and we both looked at each other and said ‘you know, it might not be as hard as you think.’”
But it took some sweat.
Neither team led by more than four points in a game that saw 19 lead changes. Muskogee’s only four point lead came on a five-point swing in the third. Jada Ford popped a 3 from the corner to make it a 46-44 MHS lead then Wilson stole the inbounds pass and drove the lane 10 seconds later for a layup and a 48-44 score with 3:43 to go in the game.
Wilson appeared to be blocked on a similar drive at the buzzer of regulation when she faked a shot and dished in the direction of Leigh Westbrook. No whistle sent the game to overtime tied at 53. Wilson’s basket with :33 to play tied it and her free throw moves MHS (21-4) into Thursday’s area final against Putnam City North, a 41-38 winner over Tulsa Washington. Union (15-9) plays Tulsa Washington in a win-or-go-home game between the teams that combined to send MHS home last year.
“We had to play hard, real hard,” Wilson said. “I’m happy we beat them. Last year they knocked us out. We got the better end today.”
Another reason they did was the return of sophomore Lanice Rozell at post. Rozell, who left last week’s win at Union with a severely sprained ankle, was back on Saturday after missing Thursday’s first-round playoff win against Stillwater. She had 10 points and eight rebounds.
“Part of me didn’t want to play her but she was cleared and I couldn’t have kept her out. She wanted to be here for her team,” Rowland said.
“Having her was huge and give credit to the big horse. Aaliyah just doesn’t quit. Anytime I tell her ‘go girl, go get this one,’ you can always see a boost in her. The heart and pedigree in these girls is something I really love about them.”
Rozell said she could have played Thursday.
“I knew I’d be needed more today,” she said.
Madison’s shot at the 2:00 mark was the only field goal in overtime for Union, which was 1-of-7 in the period. Destiny Climpson and Esther Udoumah, who each had 17 for the Lady Redskins, had only Udoumah’s free throws in overtime as points between them.
Trena Mims barely missed double-figures for MHS with nine points. But the freshman, amongst 14 players with the only seniors being a pair of reserves, will try to avoid facing an elimination game on Saturday by taking care of business Thursday. The time and site should be known by today.
“All of us knew we had to step up and what did we do? We stepped up,” said Rozell.