By Kenton Brooks
Phoenix Sports Writer
BETHANY – Stingy seems to be too kind of a word to describe Fort Gibson’s defense.
How about suffocating? Stifling?
The Lady Tigers were that and more in shutting down the Cushing Tigers 52-35 in the Class 4A state semifinals at Southern Nazarene University’s Sawyer Center on Friday night.
Here’s a sample: Che’Ron Lewis, a 5-foot-11 senior and Northeastern State University signee, came into the game averaging 18.5 points per game and had 103 double-doubles. She only had two points.
“Kudos to them. They took Che’Ron out of the game, which is what they needed to do to win,” Cushing coach Brad Crace said. “”It’s about the 500th junk defense we’ve seen. It makes you sick and you have to play through that.”
Asked about her night, Lewis waved off comment.
Ranked No. 2 in the final Okrankings.com state poll, Fort Gibson had plenty of comments as it won for the 28th time in 29 games and advances to tonight’s 7:30 state championship game at State Fair Arena against No. 4 Mount St. Mary (25-5).
“Our defense has been outstanding, particularly in these last two games,” Fort Gibson assistant coach Chuck London said. “Obviously, (Lewis) was our focus. Our kids played unbelievable defense, but that’s the way they’ve been all year. We just knew where she was at and we put a body on her. Our philosophy was to limit her touches.”
Lewis only shot the ball twice and her only points came on free throws with seven minutes left in the game.
Brooke Palmer, a 5-10 senior, and 6-2 sophomore Susie Kilpatrick shared in the defensive duties to shut down Lewis. It was also the fewest points scored by No. 3 Cushing (25-2) this season.
“Our coaches know what kind of defenses and how to guard people as they watch a lot of film,” Kilpatrick said. “Before the game, they said No. 22 is a monster and really good at going to the goal. I was scared when I heard that, but I thought we held her pretty good.”
Offensively, Fort Gibson wasn’t too shabby either as Palmer was 6-of-15 from the field and sank 12 of 14 free throws for a game-high 24 points. Palmer also had a game-high 10 rebounds.
“I’ve been wanting to go out with a bang,” she said.
Mattea Jackson topped Cushing with 14 points. Shaunda Hagler had nine and Mariah Burris added eight.
This marks the third straight year for the Lady Tigers to play for the state championship and sixth in the last eight years. They won the state title in 2011 and reached the finals in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Fort Gibson took control of the game early, jumping out to a 7-0 lead before Cushing called a timeout. Crace’s squad finally got on the scoreboard on Jackson’s 3-pointer with 3:13 left in the first period.
Though Cushing was able to cut Fort Gibson’s lead to 12-9 at the end of the first quarter, it was more of the same with Walker’s squad on defense in the second quarter. Only a Burris basket with 52.1 seconds was Cushing’s only points as Fort Gibson led 24-11 at halftime.
Fort Gibson never trailed and the closest Cushing got was 31-25 at the end of the third period.