By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
CATOOSA – Kelsey McClure sat teary-eyed at the end of the bench, flanked by assistant coaches Aaron Daniels and RuDel Wilson.
Aaliyah Wilson was up the bench, flanked by teammates.
Both watched heplessly as a game that was still within two possessions of being in their favor drained away.
For Muskogee, No. 2 in the final Okrankings.com Class 6A poll, most of it had already been flushed down the pipe.
A season that began with optimism and which hopes raised as it progressed came crashing down in a 54-46 loss to the No. 11 Union Lady Redskins here Saturday at Catoosa High School in a 6A East Area consolation final.
McClure’s fourth year as a Lady Roughers starter ended with 3:30 to play, moments before the freshman Wilson’s ended, both fouling out of a game that started just like their season did.
Muskogee led 17-5 in the early moments of the second quarter. A 5-of-13 first quarter helped, but a defense that helped cause eight Union turnovers and 2-of-13 shooting in the first quarter was a bigger part of it.
Then, just like in Thursday’s area final against Tulsa Washington, the Lady Roughers’ offense disappeared.
J’liyah Tillman’s putback with about 7 minutes to play in the second quarter was the lone field goal in a 10-minute spell up to the end of the half.
Kensley Fox’s second putback of a miss put Union on top 21-20 with :24 left in the half. Muskogee tied it when Alexus Wilson hit the second of a two-shot free-throw situation to tie the game going to the break.
Fox hit a 3 12 seconds into the second half. Muskogee would never lead again, falling behind by 11, 37-26, near the end of the quarter.
When McClure was whistled for a push with 3:30 to play, Muskogee had rallied to within five, 40-35. Aaliyah Wilson fouled out with 3:15 to play, leaving two of the team’s top scorers sitting.
Neither found their touch in this one. McClure, the team's leading scorer all season, missed double figures with 7 points, well below her 20-point average. She didn't have a field goal in the second half of Thursday's game against Tulsa Washington. Wilson had five.
Alexus Wilson, Muskogee’s other fourth-year starter bound now for Oral Roberts University, led the team with 13 points but missed her first eight shots, nearly all on layups, going into the early part of the third quarter. Mari Jackson, who had all 11 of Muskogee’s third-quarter points in Thursday’s offensive meltdown, had 12, but 11 of those came in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t panic,” Union coach Jim Stacy said, his team just a month-and-a-half removed from absorbing a 23-point loss at Muskogee before winning by 16 at Union in the regular season finale.
“I told the girls they would come out and throw a punch and we would have to withstand it. We did. We were resilient.”
Muskogee coach Doyle Rowland was feeling the counterpunches as he surfaced from a solemn locker room.
“We didn’t answer the second half,” he said. “They hit their shots. We didn’t hit enough.”
His team was 4-of-17 in the fateful middle two quarters and finished 16-of-44 (36 percent). They also committed 21 turnovers. Union had 11 after stumbling out of the opening quarter.
Brittany Hill had a game-high 20 points, including 12-of-14 from the free-throw line.
“I hate it for my girls,” Rowland said.
Muskogee finishes at 20-7, losing five of its last eight, and ironically, Broken Arrow, the team they beat in the regional finals a week ago, beat Bartlesville in the other East Area consolation and will move on to state as does Union, with a 17-10 record.