By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
From the Fort Gibson Lady Tigers winning their second Class 4A basketball title in three years to the Warner Lady Eagles capturing the Class 2A cross country championship and in between state golf tiltes for Hilldale and Eufaula and a softball championship at Hilldale, 2013 appeared to be a year when prep girls’ teams grabbed the biggest headlines..
Boys’ teams had their fair share of exciting events during the year. Vian and Wagoner advanced to the semifinals in football, a former Rougher donned an NFL uniform and the Fort Gibson soccer team made the Class 4A semifinals.
Here’s how the sports staff at the Phoenix ranked the top 10 stories in 2013:
1. Lady Tigers capture hoops championship
Ask Lady Tigers coach Jerry Walker what’s the least important score in a basketball game and he’ll quote pro basketball legend Bill Russell.
“He said the least important score is the score at halftime,” Walker said.
He relayed that quote to his Lady Tigers in the locker room at intermission of the Class 4A championship game against Mount St. Mary, which saw FGHS on the short end of 25-19 score.
His team took his word to hear and outscores the Lady Rockets 39-18 in the second half to capture its second title in three years.
The two combined for 17 points and 12 rebounds in that second half. Individually, Palmer had 15 points and six rebounds.
“We weren’t hitting our shots in the first half and we knew had to win the game inside the paint,” said former Lady Tiger Brooke Palmer who finished with a game-high 15 points. “We knew rebounding was key because they liked to crash the boards hard. We had to scrap harder than they did.”
2. Hilldale wins fastpitch title
The Lady Hornets had one goal in mind when they began their season in August – win a state title.
Having fallen to Cache in the 2012 Class 4A quarterfinals, Hilldale was not going to settle for anything less than a gold ball and it showed at the state tournament as Destiny Riddle had no-hitters going into the final inning of both the semifinal against Blanchard and the final versus Bethel to lead the Lady Hornets in accomplishing their goal.
Hilldale coach Darren Riddle, Destiny’s father who coached the Hornets’ baseball team to the Class 4A championship in 2012, said it wasn’t easy to be the coach without being the father.
“I was almost nauseated out there,” he said.
3. A three-peat for FGHS girls swimming
When any team wins three titles consecutively, the word dynasty eventual creeps into the conversation.
Well, let the talk begin as the Fort Gibson girls swim team captured the Class 5A championship for the third straight year with a total of 299 points to outdistance Stillwater (260) and Bixby (237).
“Someone asked me if we were building a dynasty at Fort Gibson,” said Fort Gibson swimming coach Connie Dean. “I don’t worry about that. I just want to make sure that we keep the ball rolling.”
Highlighting the day for Fort Gibson were wins for Leslie White in the 200 IM (2.16.66) and 100 breaststroke (1.08.96). White was also a part of the 200 freestyle relay team that bested their own state record. The 2010 team held the mark at 1:47.81 and their 2013 counterparts came in at 1:46.34.
“I was very nervous before my individual races,” White said. “In the 400, I knew we were close to the record, but I didn’t know we had broken it until it was all over.”
4. The drought ends for Warner
It had been 15 years since the Warner girls had won the Class 2A state cross country championship but that ended in October when the Lady Eagles beat out Boise City by one point to bring home the trophy.
Freshman Kailey Kilpatrick, the Phoenix’s cross country athlete of the year, set the pace for Warner, crossing the line with a time of 12 minutes and 22 seconds over the 3,200-meter course to capture the individual championship, 28 seconds ahead of Boise City’s Autumn Mizer.
“I was nervous, never having run in a state meet,” Kilpatrick said. “I was just trying to run my hardest and do the best for my teammates. I knew it was going to be very close between us and Boise City.”
Each member of the team knew it would take a personal best to win the championship, and that’s what happened. Britney Hammons broke the tape at 13:32.40, Becky Kauffman at 13:40, Becky’s sister Jessica at 13:44.8 and Ally Davis at 13:55.
“We talked about having their best times and placement and working hard to pass as many girls as we could, “ said Warner coach Mindi Peters. “Because that’s what it was going to come down to, those two things, and we did it.”
5. High kicks for FTG soccer
It was a banner year for both the boys and girls soccer teams at Fort Gibson in 2013. The boys advanced to the Class 4A state semifinals before falling to Santa Fe South 2-1 at Leo Donahue Tiger Stadium.
The girls did one better, blanking Piedmont 2-0 in their semifinal match before they were shut out by Verdigris 3-0 in the finals.
“I’m just blessed to have coached in the state championship game,” said Fort Gibson girls coach Jaime Snyder. “If the last game of the season is the state championship game, there’s no other place we would like to be.”
6. Girls golf titles at Hilldale, Eufaula
Hilldale's first-round lead in Class 4A was the difference at Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City as the Lady Hornets' one-stroke advantage over defending champion Poteau held.
“There’s probably an asterisk by it but everyone had the same opportunity to lead this thing yesterday and everybody knew what the weather might do and I told our girls before we started that we needed to approach this as if it was a one-day tournament,” Hilldale coach Oren Sikes said. “It’s unfortunate but everyone played under that same predicament.
Eufaula Lady Ironheads captured the 3A championship at the Duncan Golf and Tennis Club. The Lady Ironheads, which held a 10-stroke lead after the first round, posted a score of 371 in the wet, windy and cold conditions for a two-day total of 716 to finish 20 shots clear of Henryetta, who totaled 355 in the second round to finish at 736.
“The temperature was in the low 40, windy with intermittent rain,” said Eufaula coach Bill Bumgarner. “They’ve played in a bunch of tournaments like this this year, so they were prepared. I knew that they would go out and probably play well.”
Oktaha, meanwhile, wound up one stroke behind Hinton, falling short in its quest for a fourth title in five years.
7.. Former Rougher drafted into NFL
When the Oakland Raiders announced who they had picked in the sixth round of last April’s NFL draft, a big cheer could be heard in the Stacy McGee household as the former Muskogee Rougher and Oklahoma Sooner found out he would be donning the Silver and Black.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said at a post-draft press conference he was convinced McGee was the right pick at that spot.
“The research. Not only doing the research of the people down there and all of that, but it’s the research with him and his group. The people that surround him – his support group, and talking to him himself. You just came away with, ‘I wanted to see what this guy has and give him a chance.’” he said.
“He knows it, but I have no problems bringing him into that locker room. He’s a solid guy that made some mistakes in college and that happens sometimes. But after the thorough research we had with him, we felt good about it.”
McGee became the first Muskogee area player to be selected in the NFL draft since former Fort Gibson Tiger Ted Lehman was taken by the Detroit Lions with the fifth pick of the second round (37th overall) in the 2004 draft.
8 MHS wrestler's strategy backfires
With the score tied at 3-3 in the waning moments of Class 6A 152-pound final, Muskogee’s Jacobe Smith had a plan against Bartlesville’s Michael Hamilton
Smith intentionally allowed Hamilton a one-point escape in hopes of getting a two-point takedown, but couldn’t pull it off.
“I didn’t want the match to go into overtime,” Smith said. “I was taking my shots and doing what I had to do. I thought I could get a quick takedown. I’m feeling a little disappointed right now.”
9. Vian, Wagoner in football semis
It is almost common place to see Vian and Wagoner in the state semifinals.
Wagoner entered the playoffs with a 10-0 record and the No. 2 team Class 4A, and on a collision course with No. 1 Anadarko. As happened in 2012, the Bulldogs saw their season end at the hands of the Indians 34-14 in the semifinals.
Like Wagoner, Vian entered the playoffs undefeated and No. 3 in Class 2A. In the semifinals, the Wolverines would meet the team that ousted them from the 2012 playoffs – Davis. After a week off because the winter storm that invaded the state, the Wolverines could not solve the Wolves and dropped a 56-39 decision.
10 ((tie). Muskogee athletics controversy
At the beginning of the summer, former Muskogee Public Schools athletic director and Roughers’ wrestling coach Bobby Jefferson was in a predicament.
On June 17, MPS assistant Jim Wilson told Jefferson he had to choose between the two positions. According to superintendent Mike Garde, Jefferson chose the AD position.
“For some reason, it was Jim’s understanding that he had made the decision to take the athletic director job,” Garde said when asked to comment on a written statement Jefferson sent to the district office.
However, Jefferson had a different story to tell about his meeting with Wilson.
“This came up in the last 10 minutes,” Jefferson said. “I said I was happy with both and I wasn’t choosing.”
Jefferson's son Dan was interviewed but apparently never had a chance with the search committee. On Aug. 9, John Petty was approved by the Muskogee School Board as the new wrestling coach. In November, Jefferson announced he would retire as AD at the end of the month.
10 (tie). MHS slowpitch and fastpitch make state
It was a banner year for coach Keith Coleman’s squads at Muskogee High School as both the slowpitch and fastpitch softball team earned a spot in the Class 6A state tournament.
The slowpitch version of the Lady Roughers made the trip to Oklahoma City in May but it was a short trip as the Union Lady Indians scored five runs in the first inning and held on to win 10-8, ending Muskogee’s season in the quarterfinals. Union would eventually capture the state championship with a 16-6 run-rule win over Broken Arrow.
However, it wasn’t a total downer for the team as it was awarded the 6A slowpitch academic state championship for maintaining a 3.65 team grade-point average.
“The state tournament is a day where anything and everything can happen,” Coleman said. “We make costly errors on routine outs and it came back and bit us. The academic championship is the first in the school’s history and it falls back to the Laura Holloway Carter Scholarship and the excellent teachers and staff at Muskogee High School. That provides the girls with a lot of incentive to keep the grades up and this year it showed.”
In October, the fastpitch team earned a spot in the state tournament quarterfinals but ran into Oklahoma commit Jayden Chestnut of Mustang who limited the Lady Roughers to one hit while striking out 14 batters in a 4-0 win over Muskogee.
“We knew how good she was,” Coleman said of Chestnut. “She totally dominated us from the beginning to the end. She really didn’t give us any chances. It was a great job by her. Hats off – she’s tough and she did a great job.”