By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
FORT GIBSON – Keys’ problems began early in the day when their 6-foot-6 post man, Peyton Ragsdale, pulled a thermometer out of his mouth that read 103 degrees.
Then it was the problem of trying to keep a chill on Fort Gibson’s Jordan Hill, who gave the Cougars fits just about anywhere on the court en route to a 65-45 Tigers’ win Friday night at Harrison Field House.
Hill’s game-high 27 points produced no less than four in any quarter, his low coming when he left the game with 2:52 to play.
“He’ll create matchup problems for you,” Keys coach Duane Jones said. “He’ll take you down, post you up or go out and shoot it.”
To make matters worse, Ragsdale, who averages about 14 points and 9 rebounds per outing, wasn’t around to grab any misses.
“They’re as good an offensive rebounding team as we play,” Jones said. “But it would have been nice to have him around.”
The lead changed hands four times in the first quarter before Jordan London hurled up a 3-pointer on the break at the buzzer to tie the game at 15. London and Hill had three baskets each in the second as the Tigers took a 31-24 advantage to the locker room.
Hill came out and scored 12 of the Tigers’ 18 points in the third to make it a 49-37 game, including a three-point play when Keys’ Trevor Eubanks got him on the arm on a drive in the lane for the second buzzer-beater in the contest,
An alley-ooper on an inbounds pass to Hill to start the fourth quarter tore the air out of the balloon for the short-handed Cougars.
“We’ll see him at their place. They certainly missed what he brings them,” FGHS coach Gary Hendrix said. “We battled, they battled but I thought that basket to end the first quarter and the two baskets to end the third and start the fourth were really pivotal in terms of momentum for us.”
Hill was also 5-of-5 from the line after an 8-of-10 performance in a 36-point win against Hilldale on Thursday. He’s feeling much better after some early season struggles there.
“At the beginning of the season I was hitting about 60 percent but I missed some big ones in big games, games we lost by a short margin and would have mattered for us,” he said. “When I’d shoot I’d push my arm out and it might go anywhere. I’ve really been focusing on following straight through and not getting in a hurry.”
London added 15 points for Fort Gibson (10-3). Eubanks had 14 points to lead Keys (10-6) and Tyler Blankenship had 10.
Fort Gibson 62, Keys 51
A young Lady Cougars squad battled its way back into the game late in the first half, got a short-lived advantage in the third, but went stone cold in the fourth quarter, allowing 4A No. 2 Fort Gibson (14-0) to escape an upset bid Friday.
“We’re still on a learning curve. Our girls wanted it bad but there’s a fine line between wanting it so bad and doing what you’re supposed to do and they tried to do what we asked,” Keys coach Mickey Duncan said. “To play the way we played through three quarters and we were right there, I would have been kind of shocked because we did not play well early.”
The Lady Tigers led 14-4 and again by 10 at 26-16 on free throws by Savannah Gray midway through the second quarter, but Keys (9-7) pushed back, closing with seven unanswered points to draw within three at the half despite 17 first-half turnovers.
Courtney Willis’ basket with 5:18 to go in the third gave Keys a 34-33 lead. Sydni Rainbolt had eight points in the third and 14 after the half to finish with 18, but sat a spell after getting her fourth foul. It was her basket with 2:38 to play that ended an 0-for-8 fourth quarter and an 8-0 FGHS run.
Brooke Palmer, who had a season-high 23 points in the win over Hilldale on Thursday, had eight fourth-quarter points and 19 of her 22 points after the half. She sat much of the first half after picking up two early fouls, leaving FGHS without a post presence. Six-footer CheyAnne Johnson missed her second game on crutches after a foot injury in Tuesday’s win against Wagoner and 6-2 Susie Kilpatrick was home sick.
“I came back out focused,” Palmer said. “We know what happens when we get two fouls that quick.”
FGHS coach Jerry Walker knows too.
“When we got her back, you saw the difference,” he said. “And I thought Savannah was a beast on the boards when we needed it and when the ball was in her hands, she cut them to pieces with the ball in her hands getting it to Brooke.”
FGHS plays in the Old Fort Classic next week, the girls against Wagoner at 7:20 on Monday and the boys against Stigler on Tuesday. Keys turns around with 4 and 5:30 contests today at Sequoyah.