By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
FORT GIBSON – “Ugly” was how coach Jerry Walker summed up his team’s 55-44 Class 4A Area IV regional championship win over Inola at Harrison Field House.
Ugly is not a description used much when you’ve lost two games in three seasons and are now perfect through 25 contests in 2012-13. But this one – this regional – had its moments for the No. 2 Lady Tigers.
After having some struggles in 61-47 win against Poteau that saw an 11-point swing that gave the Lady Pirates a lead late in the first half, the Lady Tigers were 4-of-13 out of the gate in the opening quarter. At the same time, however, Fort Gibson ran off 10 unanswered points and Inola barely prevented a first-quarter shutout, getting a pair of free throws from Lauren McDaniel with :46 on the clock.
The Lady Longhorns (15-10) were 0-for-7 at the end of the period, then Kristen Mootry’s 3 with 7:06 until halftime broke the cold spell.
All of which proves they weren’t the ugliest team on the floor.
“We survived,” Walker said. “At times especially early we didn’t shoot the ball well. We didn’t run any of our sets clean, we took so long to get into something that someone was out of pocket. Then late in the game we didn’t handle the full-court pressure when they came back, just like Poteau (in the first half) on Thursday.”
“But when you shoot well, everything seems like it’s going well. When you struggle, it seems to make everything really, really difficult.”
Focused on utilizing its press to create turnovers and feeding the ball inside to Brooke Palmer, the Lady Tigers (25-0) built a 20-5 lead, Palmer getting four field goals and nine points to that point. Inola, which coughed up the ball 13 times in the first half, finally was able to execute possession and closed the last 3 1/2 minutes with a 7-0 run to draw within 10, 22-12, at the half.
But Inola’s turnover problem extended into the third with eight more, and the Tigers doubled their lead, up 37-16 going to the fourth. Palmer had two field goals and a pair of free throws in that span, then the Lady Tigers preserved the lead by going 14-of-16 from the line in the final period when, as Walker pointed, it got sloppy again in terms of handling the full-court pressure, his team committing seven of its uncharacteristic 18 total turnovers.
The Lady Longhorns would not break into single digits, though.
Palmer finished with 22 points and Savanna Gray had 18. Inola’s Lyndsey Byfield had 15 points off the bench, all in the fourth quarter.
“We started slow, but once we get going we’re pretty good,” Gray said. “We’ve got to get pumped up and let the gae sink in more.”
Fort Gibson 67, Inola 52
Collin Abdallah’s shooting touch was on fire the first half.
The Tigers’ guard had four of his five 3-pointers and 14 of his career-high 20 points to lead what ultimately became a balanced scoring attack by Fort Gibson, who advances to Thursday’s Area IV consolation quarterfinals opposite Locust Grove at the Muskogee Civic Center.
Abdallah had three 3s in the opening quarter and the Tigers led 21-2 after the opening eight minutes.
“They did a pretty good job taking away some of our other options and he was left open and got some great shots,” FGHS coach Gary Hendrix said.
Zack Lindley had 13, Jordan Hill 12 and Ned Adair 10.
The Tigers (22-4) led 36-16 at the half and it got as narrow as an eight-point margin in the second half.
“We got a little complacent but Inola’s a good team,” Hendrix said. “Bottom line is we get to play another week.”
Travis Hall had 22 points for Inola to lead all scorers.
FGHS plays Locust Grove at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Civic Center.