By Mike Tupa
If it had been a game of poker for high gambling stakes, the Bartlesville High School Bruin basketball team could have rightly complained for having the cards stacked against them.
After all, the Bruins were two starters down going into Friday’s showdown against the mighty — and undefeated and No. 1 ranked — Tulsa Union High School Redskins.
Bartlesville started a freshman (Shane Simpson) at point guard — and went to battle without its second-leading scorer (A.J. Archambo) — against a Redskin juggernaut that was 18-0 and a returning state tournament qualifier.
All that understood, the Bruins gave the Redskins a valiant battle before succumbing by 12 points, 53-41, at the Bruin Fieldhouse.
Union led by only one point at halftime, 22-21, and took a single-digit advantage, 37-28, into the final quarter.
But, Bartlesville just couldn’t generate enough firepower to keep pace with the Redskins.
Two other factors played into the painfully close first half — Tulsa Union’s ice-cold shooting from behind the three-point line and Bartlesville’s incredible effort — led by Matt Simpson — on the defensive boards to hold Union to several one-missed-shot-and-done possessions.
In the second half, the Redskins overcame some of their earlier woes to take control — but never by much.
In the third period, Union opened up with a quick 8-0 run to stretch the lead to 30-21 — only to let Bruin long-distance marksman Andrew Gronigan drop in a patented three-point net snapper to make it a six-point game, 30-24.
About three-and-a-half-minutes into the second half, an official hung a technical on the Tulsa Union bench and Bruin senior Barron Tanner sank both free throws to narrow Union’s lead to four points, 30-26.
But, the Bruins struggled mightily in scoring — during long stretches — in their half-court offense, other than an occasional three-pointer from the corner or behind a screen. By third quarter’s end, Tulsa Union had built back a nine-point bulge, 37-28.
Bartlesville’s scoring woes continued early in the final quarter and Tulsa Union widened the gap to 11 points, 39-28, on a transition bucket by A. Rodriguez, with 5:53 left in the game.
From that moment on, however, the Bruins played Union almost dead even the rest of the way.
Tanner’s trey trimmed Union’s lead to 39-31, but the Redskins quickly answered with M. McQuarters’ 16-foot deuce.
A three-point play — the old-fashioned way — by Tanner narrowed the chasm to seven points, 41-34, with 4:59 left.
However, Union’s A. Johnson dialed in a two-pointer in response.
The Redskins then rambled out to a 14-point advantage, 49-35, with less than two-and-a-half-minutes left.
But, Bartlesville kept clawing. Tanner — who scored nine points in the final period and finished with a game-best 25 points on the night — buried his fourth trey of the game to take the Union lead back to 11 points, 49-38.
But, time ran out on the Bruins.
Gronigan made a Ma Bell special with about a minute remaining to cap Bartlesville’s scoring.
The Bruins — who are coached by Clent Stewart — saw their season record leveled at 9-9.
Next up, Bartlesville travels Tuesday to Owasso, where it will attempt to pull off the season sweep. Back on Dec. 2, Bartlesville handed the Rams a 47-42 defeat.
T. Union 53, Bartlesville 41
Tulsa Union 13-9-15-16—53
M. McQuarters 4 0-0 8, E. Chargois 6 0-1 13, N. Jamerson 0 1-2 1, A. Johnson 3 4-6 10, M. Garcia 3 6-6 13, A. Rodriquez 4 0-1 8. Totals: 20 11-16 53.
Tayo Dina 1 1-3 3, Jaylin Oliver 3 0-0 7, Andrew Gronigan 2 0-0 6, Barron Tanner 8 5-5 25. Totals: 14 6-8 41.