By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
SAPULPA – At times, the Muskogee Lady Roughers looked in mid-season form and then there were other times.
It was the other times that almost hurt as Muskogee held on for a 60-58 win over the No. 8 Sapulpa Lady Chieftains in their season and Frontier Conference opener on Tuesday.
“We’re young,” said Muskogee coach Doyle Rowland. “Most of the night I had one junior, three sophomores and a freshman on the floor. For one minute, we look like world beaters and for another minute we can’t throw it in the ocean.”
The first quarter showed exactly what Rowland was referring to as Sapulpa started the game with a 13-1 run. However, the Lady Roughers tightened up their defense and went on a 17-0 run for an 18-13 lead with 1:41 left in the first quarter and a 22-16 advantage after the first eight minutes.
“We didn’t expect to come out like that,” said Aaliyah Wilson, the lone returning starter from last year’s area finalist. “We noticed we were sort of flat and picked it up. We just had to play basketball like we know how to do.”
Wilson and Jada Ford provided the impetus for the run with 14 of the 17 points. Ford finished the first half with 16 points on her way to 22 points for the game while Wilson had 14 of her 20 points in the first half as the Lady Roughers led 38-23 at intermission.
The youth of the Lady Roughers began to show in the third quarter as the Lady Chieftains started the period by scoring the first eight points to trim Muskogee’s lead to 38-31, most of which was courtesy of six turnovers. But Muskogee regrouped and when Wilson drained a 3-pointer with 3:57 left, the Lady Roughers had regained their double-figure lead at 43-31 and kept the 11-point advantage at 45-34 heading into the final quarter.
It looked as though Muskogee was going to put the game away to start the fourth, scoring the first five points and had a 54-44 lead with 3:52 left. But the Lady Chieftains began to whittle away and when Taylor Henderson hit a 3-point shot from the left side with 4.9 seconds left, the Muskogee lead was 59-58.
“We just had to play smart and play good defense,” Ford said. “We had to stick together as a team.”
After Wilson made the front end of a 1-and-1 to make the score 60-58 with 1.2 seconds remaining, Sapulpa inbounded the ball near midcourt. However, Henderson had the inbounds pass deflect off her hands as the clock ran out, preserving the win.
“When you’ve got a real inexperienced team, you’re going to get these kinds of games,” Rowland said. “I told them the three keys to win the game were rebounding, intensity and play smart basketball down the stretch. I told them if we do those things, we’ll win and we did.”
The Roughers were coming of a 2-0 trip to Texas to start the season but had not been tested in either game. Tuesday at Sapulpa, Muskogee was tested and then some, rallying in the fourth quarter to improve to 3-0.
That’s a really good team, especially at home,” said Muskogee coach Josh Berry. “They won a lot of good games late last season and got really good.”
Had the game been a free-throw shooting contest, Muskogee would have come out on the short end as it missed 15 of 25 attempts from the stripe as opposed to Sapulpa who made 23 of 33.
“We’re working on that,” Berry said. “And we know that’s something we have to clean up.”
The game got off to a very slow start as both teams were unable to find the bottom of the net with Sapulpa forging ahead 15-12 at the end of the first quarter. The second half was just as ugly as both teams scored 12 points each with the Chieftains taking a 27-24 lead at the break.
“The first half, we were just playing their game,” said Tramal Ivy who recorded a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. “We had to settle down and play our game.”
The third quarter was more of the same as the Roughers started the period by missing its first six attempts from the line. However, Muskogee stayed close and even trimmed two points off the deficit to trail 37-36 going into the fourth quarter.
It was in the fourth quarter when the Roughers felt comfortable at the line by making nine of 13 attempts. That allowed Ivy and Anthony King, who finished with 11 points, coming off the bench and providing the spark Muskogee needed to grab the lead.
David Beasley, who scored 14 of his team-high 19 points in the first half, knew the Chieftains were going to try to stop him.
“I knew they were going to key on me,” he said. “I believe I’m the best player in the state of Oklahoma so I just came out and played my game. We let them stick around. We’ve got to learn to step on people’s throats when we’ve got the lead.”
Both MHS teams are scheduled to debut at home Friday against Owasso, weather permitting.