OKLAHOMA CITY — It was one of those moments basketball players close their eyes and imagine.
With 15.6 seconds left in the Class 2A title game, Oktaha senior Kristen Lawley stood at the free throw line with the score tied at 63.
The Lady Tigers, who had to battle through the loser’s bracket to even make it to state, broke down Preston 67-63 Saturday at the State Fair Arena to win their first state title in any sport.
“I’ve always thought about shooting free throws to win a state championship,” said Lawley, her eyes still bloodshot from a tearful postgame celebration. “I know it was the last time for me, so I just put them in.”
Oktaha ended a stunning and emotionally draining week by not only stopping an overpowering Preston team and one of Class 2A’s top players, but by coming back to win for the third time in three days.
The Lady Tigers trailed Oklahoma Christian in Thursday’s opening round, were behind by as many as 16 to Snyder in the semifinals and led just twice in three quarters of play against Preston.
But, as had been the case the entire tournament, Oktaha refused to give in.
With four minutes to go in the game, Preston gave the Lady Tigers a perfect opportunity to roll over.
Two straight baskets by Tera Newnam had the Lady Pirates’ offense humming when Lawley fouled a driving LaTorsha Baldwin to put Preston in the bonus.
Up until that point, Preston had already made 16 trips to the line, missing just five shots. Baldwin sunk both of hers to make the score 55-50.
With that, it looked as if the 29-2 Lady Pirates would reach 30 wins and take the gold ball home.
Instead, they fell apart.
Oktaha’s defense, long the signature of a program with nine state tournament appearances, increased their pressure in the halfcourt. Preston’s guards responded with more unforced errors than a bad tennis player. And when they weren’t turning the ball over, the Lady Pirates were either making bad shots or poor defensive decisions.
Nikki Matthews and Lawley eased through Preston’s defense to cut the lead to one, 55-54, with 3:25 to go.
Preston’s freshman guard Randi Shackelford traveled to give Oktaha the ball back.
A Matthews jumper made it 56-55 Oktaha. Rachel Hall then followed a Preston miss with a basket inside to make it 58-55. Another miss by Preston turned into a three-point play for Hall.
Then another Preston turnover. Then a pair of Oktaha free throws.
Within two and a half minutes, the Lady Pirates were drowning, trailing 63-55 with 1:35 to go.
“We just decided to go get it,” said Oktaha sophomore Meredith Bedford, who scored all nine of her points in the second half. “We had nothing to lose.”
But — eyes shut and fingers crossed — Preston got back into the game.
Gwen Walker, who hadn’t scored the entire game, entered at the 1:30 mark to knock down a pair of 3-pointers, and Newnam hit two free throws to make it 63-all with 25.5 seconds left.
Newnam, who laid down 39 points against No. 1 Latta in the semifinal game, finished with 29 points. She had forced Bedford to sit early with three fouls, pushed Matthews around inside and was triple-teamed at one point by Oktaha’s defense.
But her last play of the game definitely wasn’t the best.
With 15.6 seconds to go, Newman committed her fifth foul of the game on Lawley, sending Oktaha’s only senior to the line with a chance to win the game.
Not only did Lawley make both free throws, but Oktaha’s Lisa Scott stole the ball on the following in-bounds play and Tia Moore sunk another two from the stripe with seven seconds left to finalize the win.
“When I was on the line, the goal looked really, really small,” Moore said. “I just wanted them to go in and they did.
“Now I have no idea when this is going to sink it. It’s hard to feel anything right now.”