For the Ardmore girls’ basketball team, it will be an eight-minute stretch that team members and fans will recall and relive for quite some time.
Unfortunately, the memory of those precious eight minutes will sting and evoke a sense of sadness rather than happiness for the Lady Tigers and their faithful.
The final quarter of  the Class 5A championship game between No. 5 Ardmore and No. 2 East Central featured a wild swing in not only score, but emotions, as the Lady Tigers saw a 10-point lead early in the period evaporate in a 51-44 loss before an estimated crowd of 6,000 at the Mabee Center on the Oral Roberts University campus.
Through three quarters, Ardmore—led by the play of standout forward J’Sades Ainsworth—had taken its biggest lead of the game at 38-30.
Two Ainsworth free throws with 6:57 to play gave Ardmore (20-6) what seemed to be a comfortable 40-30 cushion.
But those points proved to be the final ones of the evening for the Lady Tiger junior, who notched 22 points, and Ardmore head coach Debra Manley knew that the game was far from over against an experienced team like the Lady Cardinals (25-4).
“I knew it was coming,” Manley said in referencing the full-court pressure and stifling defense that East Central has been known for in making it to the Class 5A state title game in six of the past eight years, losing five times in those eight trips.
“I knew they were going to come at us.”
And come at the Lady Tigers is just what the Lady Cardinals did.
What followed in the game’s last seven minutes seems so improbable that it’s hard to believe it could happen.
Ardmore, in its 20th state tournament appearance and first state final since losing to Woodward in 2002, made just one field goal and scored only five points the rest of the way.
On nine consecutive possessions, East Central’s defensive pressure forced the Lady Tigers into turnovers. Ardmore had 12 of its 23 turnovers in the game’s final eight minutes.
“We had a lot of deflected passes that just went into their hands,” Manley said about her team’s struggles in the fourth quarter.
“Things just started snowballing and not going our way.”
A free throw by Sierra Gordon, who had nine points, gave the Lady Tigers a 41-34 advantage with 5:51 remaining.
But East Central started capitalizing on Ardmore’s miscues, getting extra scoring opportunities due to the Lady Tiger turnovers, and reeled off 14 unanswered points to grab control at 48-41.
Gordon’s 3-pointer—the Lady Tigers’ only field goal of the quarter—pulled Ardmore to within 48-44 with 1:26 to play.
But that is as close as Ardmore would get in its attempt to claim a third state title for the school following Class 4A crowns in 1987 and 1993.
“We just couldn’t handle their pressure and rushed our shots,” Ainsworth said about the fateful final period.
“They definitely picked up the pressure. We needed to come to the ball on some of our passes.”
East Central actually began intensifying its defensive pressure in the third quarter, forcing Ardmore into six miscues in the period.
Those miscues helped East Central rally to within a single point after trailing by seven early in the third quarter.
But Ardmore finished the period on a flourish, outscoring the Lady Cardinals 11-3.
After missing their first seven 3-point field goal attempts, Tatayana Lee and Sierra Gordon each nailed a trey in the run to help Ardmore take its eight-point advantage into the final eight minutes.
“I thought we had it,” Ainsworth said about the team’s chances at that point to claim the gold ball.
But then the improbable happened.