TULSA — Tata Lee set down the Silver Ball.
Christa Pickens and Lee shouldered responsibility.
“(I’m feeling) heartbroken,” Lee said.
Pickens agreed — with a caveat.
“We’re bringing home something,” Pickens said. “We tried our best. It was a lot of turnovers.
“J’Sades (Ainsworth) can’t be the only one to score. Everybody’s got to step up and I didn’t step up and do my part.”
Said Lee, “We didn’t do our part.”
Added Pickens, “We’re seniors and we’ve got to lead the team. It just kind of fell apart.”
East Central deserves credit for withstanding Ardmore’s run to end the third quarter, which improved the Lady Tigers’ lead to eight points.
The Lady Cardinals’ experience, quickness and length deflated the Tigers’ aspirations. Due in part to its full-court man press, East Central forced Ardmore to commit a turnover on nine consecutive possessions, rallying to win 51-44 on Saturday in a Class 5A state-championship game at the Mabee Center in Tulsa.
Its sixth state-tournament berth in the past eight years, East Central broke through this year.
East Central junior guard Ja’mee Asberry scored 23 of her 25 points in the second half. An Oklahoma State women’s basketball commit, Asberry hit 13 of 14 from the free-throw line — all in the second half.
“Experience, that makes up for a lot,” Ardmore coach Debra Manley said.
Ainsworth had 20 points through three quarters. She hit a couple of free throws early in the fourth period and finished with 22 points. The Lady Tigers’ junior scored 66 points in three state-tournament games.
About a minute into the second quarter, Pickens missed a layup. Ardmore (20-6) retained a 12-6 lead.
Official statistics indicate Pickens had one turnover at halftime. She committed seven turnovers in total, arguably none more crucial than halfway through the final period, when a Lady Cardinals’ defender deflected and stole her pass. Running back defensively in transition, Pickens committed what a referee ruled as an intentional foul. Avery Russell bounced home the first charity toss, tying the game at 41.
A couple seconds later, Russell’s runner gave East Central (25-4) a 43-41 lead, one it wouldn’t relinquish.
That sequence marked her entire scoring output.
“When they got ahead, I think we got a down just a little bit,” Manley said, subtly emphasizing the final four words. “Then we fought back.”
The resilience didn’t translate on the scoreboard. Ardmore — ranked No. 6 in Class 5A — went roughly six minutes without a field goal, not scoring until Sierra Gordon’s 3-pointer with 1:28 remaining that the Lady Tigers’ deficit to 48-44.
Pickens missed two free throws with 58.54 seconds remaining that could’ve cut the deficit in half.
With about 16 seconds remaining, Ardmore trailing 58-54, Lee’s 3-pointer bounced off the front rim. Pickens drew defensive help along the right edge of the lane and passed to Lee on the left wing.
Lee sat for a significant amount of time in the fourth quarter.
Manley said the Lady Cardinals’ pressure had an impact on Lee.
“We have seen that type of pressure,” Manley said. “We’ve usually handled it pretty well.
“They’re big, fast and strong. They exposed some of our weaknesses.”