By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
TAHLEQUAH – Grit and a roll of the dice bailed Muskogee out here Saturday in the finals of the United Keetowah Band Tahlequah Tiger Invitational.
With their two top players battling fouls and the team trailing as much as eight with 6:01 to play, the Lady Roughers fought back to pull out a 61-54 victory, putting together a 26-point fourth-quarter offensive surge led by senior point guard Kelsey McClure.
McClure, who drew her fourth foul with 4:23 left, stayed in during the stretch run, scoring nine points and relying on some help around her. Mari Jackson’s pull-up jumper near the two-minute mark gave Muskogee the lead for good at 53-51. McClure later dished to Sydni Carter for a basket and an all-but-locked 59-52 lead with 47 seconds to play.
McClure avoided her fifth foul and finished with 17 points, allowing Lady Roughers’ coach Doyle Rowland’s gamble of keeping her running the offense to pay off.
“That’s basketball, you pick your poison,” he said. “Either you put her on the bench and know you’re going to go down or put her on the floor and hope she doesn’t pick up that fifth. So we picked our poison and came out OK on it this time.”
Alexus Wilson, who finished with 14 points, did foul out with 1:37 to play. McClure and Wilson wound up on the all-tournament team, McClure being the MVP – and the glue that held it together.
“I knew when I got my fourth I had to dig deep, keep my composure and be there for my team and I couldn’t be all up on my girl (defensively) like I was,” she said. “Like coach told us, this was going to be a fight. I needed to be a help for others and we really came together in the end.”
Casey Beaston, who along with Randee O’Donnell represented the Lady Tigers on the all-tourney team, gave her squad its biggest advantage of the game at the 6-minute mark, and the 45-37 edge looked good at that point to Tahlequah coach Chad Walker.
“Normally at that point we go to a spread and attack the basket to draw fouls but we were pulling it out, and when we did get fouled, we missed too many free throws,” he said.
Tahlequah was 4-of-9 from the line in the fourth – not enough to make up the difference, but certainly a momentum drainer.
Jackson kept Muskogee in the game in the first half with 11 points, her team trailing 28-26 at the break. A 19-6 Tahlequah run had six points from O’Donnell, which turned a 15-9 MHS advantage with 4:30 to go in the opening quarter into a 28-21 Lady Tiger cushion when Whitney Wright scored on a layup off an assist from O’Donnell with 1:45 until halftime.
Jackson had a 3 and a short jumper for the final points of the half and finished with 13 points. Leading Tahlequah (3-1) was O’Donnell with 14.
Muskogee also survived 13 first-half turnovers against the No. 10 team in the Okrankings Class 5A coaches poll. The Lady Roughers, No. 9 in 6A, won their third straight game after the season-opening loss to Sapulpa at home and goes to Sand Springs on Tuesday.
Also in the tournament, Muskogee’s JV won the seventh-place game, 55-25 over Oklahoma City Southeast. Jada Ford had 17 to lead the way.
On the boys side, the Roughers snapped their two-game skid with a resounding 65-33 win over Sand Springs. Anthony King led with 20 points while Tramal Ivy had 16 and David Beasley 13. MHS (2-2) gets a rematch with the Sandites on Tuesday in a Frontier Conference contest.
SOYLA, the school of international boys which features a pair of 7-footers and beat Muskogee in the first round, took third place with a 78-46 win over Tahlequah. Dalton Cunningham had 15 points and Will Carlile had 10 for the Tigers. Allan Prosper had 21 points for SOYLA.
The boys championship was won by Moore, 71-59 over Coweta.