By Kenton Brooks
Phoenix Sports Writer
Scott Hensley doesn’t believe in moral victories.
But his Hilldale Lady Hornets gave a strong enough effort to play the Fort Gibson Lady Tigers, the No. 2 in the Okrankings.com Class 4A poll, toe-to-toe for nearly 28 minutes.
Hilldale, though, faded late and didn’t score for a little more than three minutes late in the fourth quarter as Fort Gibson pulled out a 56-49 victory in Verdigris Valley Conference action at a packed Hilldale Event Center on Thursday night, continuing their absolute dominance in the series dating back to 1997.
Being close to getting a victory wasn’t enough for Hensley, in his second year of involvement with one of the area’s top rivalries.
“We want to win games,” he said outside the locker room. “I couldn’t be more proud of the way the girls played. They impressed me.
“We’ve got young kids and this is probably the first time they’ve been in a situation like this. It’s an experience to be in a tight game with a good team and with a good crowd.”
Hilldale jumped out to an 8-2 lead, but Fort Gibson clung to a 12-10 advantage after the first quarter and 30-28 at halftime. The Lady Hornets got as close as 41-40 after Emily Dowdy’s basket with 1:39 left in the third quarter.
“I thought we had a real good chance at beating them,” Casady Mills, who finished with a team-high 11 points, said. “We weren’t afraid of them.”
However, the Lady Hornets didn’t score for three minutes and two seconds (3:29 to 27.7) in the final period in falling to 9-5 overall and 3-3 in conference.
“I think our legs were a little tired,” Mills said.
Fort Gibson kept their distance with baskets by Brooke Palmer and Allie Glover to improve to 14-0 overall and 6-0 in conference.
Fort Gibson coach Jerry Walker was also impressed with the Lady Hornets.
“They’re a good ballclub and played well with their game plan,” he said. “They were ready to play us. I told our players that this isn’t the first time they’ve played us close here. The bottom line is you won, but you’re not happy with the way you played and that’s a good thing. We can play better than that.
“Hilldale was more athletic than we are. We didn’t play like the better basketball team tonight.”
Palmer finished with a game-high 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field and 6-of-9 at the free throw line. She was glad to see her team hold on for the victory.
“We stayed mentally tough,” she said. “It was definitely a big game. The crowd was hyped up We haven’t played our best yet and we’re getting better.”
Fort Gibson 63,
It was a bounce-back game for the Tigers.
After losing to Wagoner earlier this week, coach Gary Hendrix’s squad with a 23-9 second quarter for a 38-20 halftime lead en route to the victory.
“It was nice after Tuesday night,” he said. “We didn’t play great but we played a little better tonight as the kids gave a great effort.”
Three Tigers scored in double figures with Jordan Hill leading the way with 20. He had 10 in the first half. The others who scored in double figures were Jordan London with 18 and Zach Lindley with 10
Fort Gibson, ranked No. 10 in the 4A poll this week, improved to 11-3 overall and 5-1 in conference.
Hilldale, on the other hand, dropped to 4-10 and 0-6 for its third straight loss.
“We got outhustled in every phase of the game,” Hilldale coach Jeremy Rogers said. “That was the most disappointing thing, I thought we got outworked.”
Bill Muse, Jr. led the Hornets with 12 polnts, getting all of that in the first half and on 3-pointers.
Hilldale and Fort Gibson are back in action tonight. The Hornets and Lady Hornets play at Wagoner, while the Tigers and Lady Tigers play home against Keys.