Tahlequah Sequoyah's Mike Soap lays the ball up over Verdigris' Adam Hollon in the Class 3A championship on Saturday in Oklahoma City.

OKLAHOMA CITY — The 10-0 hill Sequoyah boys had to climb must’ve felt like Mount Everest.

The Indians couldn’t overcome that deficit in losing 62-51 to the Verdigris Cardinals in the Class 3A state championship game in front of an overflow crowd 13,000 — the second largest in the last 30 years at the state tournament, according to state officials — at the State Fair Arena on Saturday night.

“We never could get over that hump,” Sequoyah coach Larry Grigg said, noting also a feeling that at times it felt like his team was playing five on seven due to some timely whistles.

“We had two bang-bang calls and both of them went against us. We had a call at our end where he (Rotnei Clarke) got the block and the bucket. We got fouled going to basket and got the hoop, but they called it on the floor,” Grigg said.

“We knew coming in, and don’t get me wrong and I’m not blaming the officials, that if it was a 50-50 call, we needed to get more of them. For a 3A game, it was a very physical game.”

Mike Soap, the Indians’ leading scorer this season and in the title game with 15 points, knew the 10-0 deficit was costly to his team.

“I think we were a little scared,” he said about the opening three minutes and 29 seconds. “We were a little shaken up after Rotnei hit his first shot.”

Clarke, the state’s all-time leading scorer, scored five of his team’s points in that game-opening run. He finished the game by making 12 of 24 shots from the field and six of seven free throws for 35 points. He finishes his high school career with 3,758 points.

Clarke picked up his fourth foul with 6:07 left in the game and his team leading 51-43, giving the Indians hope that he might exit in the stretch.

“It wasn’t smart to get into that spot in the first place,” he said. “I was able to keep my head afterward and get through it. I have to give glory to God.”

Clarke also gave glory to his father Conley, the director of basketball operations at Oral Roberts University, as he ran off the court, jumped into his arms and hugged him at the baseline after the final buzzer.

Verdigris, ranked No. 1 in the final poll, finished the season at 27-3.

Despite the start, the Indians clamped down with its defensive pressure to climb back into the game and to cut the deficit to 37-34 on Soap’s dunk with 3:50 left in the third period.

Still, the No. 3 Indians (19-10) couldn’t get any closer than that.

“Their pressure really concerned me,” said Verdigris coach Kelly Clarke, the uncle to Rotnei who coached at Tahlequah in 1998-2000 when Luke Dobbins set his large school career scoring record.

“They have a solid defensive plan and they don’t sway from it very often,” Kelly Clarke continued. “It’s a relentless style of play. You have to give Larry all the credit in the world for it. They gave a great effort.”

Grigg, losing in the state finals for the second straight year, was proud of his team’s effort.

“I think we got the maximum out of what we had,” he said. “If we do that year in and year out, you’re not disappointed as a coach.”

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