Ardmore will play for a state championship for the first time since 2002.
TULSA — Christa Pickens published the news on Thursday morning. Jenny Pickens, Christa's great-great grandma passed away late this week.
As she works through that loss, Pickens has a second family who needs her.
“I know she hasn't ever gotten to see me play,” Christa said of Jenny. “She can be able to see me (from) heaven, so I really just had to go to work with my team. It's been hard, but I've just been focused on the game.”
Ardmore's three-point shooting in the early stages helped the Lady Tigers build a lead that Tahlequah rarely challenged on Friday. Ardmore defeated the Lady Tigers 64-48 at the Mabee Center to advance to the Class 5A state-championship game.
Ardmore (20-5) will play East Central at 6 p.m. today. Ranked No. 2 in Class 5A, East Central (24-4) defeated Piedmont 59-46 in the other semifinal.
Pickens agreed with a statement that Jenny had an impact on her life.
“I didn't go see her a lot because of basketball, Pickens said. “She got old. She was 90.”
Ardmore — ranked No. 5 — coach Debra Manley said Pickens “has handled it well. She's been very mature. Even though it's a sad time, she knows her grandmother would want her playing strong. She knows she (Jenny) is looking down on her now and cheering for her.
“We have work to do and she (Christa) knows her team needs her. I couldn't be prouder of her.”
Pickens finished with nine points, two assists, a rebound and three turnovers.
Her value shone brightly in the fourth quarter, when Tahlequah opened in its 1-3-1 and trapped Ardmore's ball handler, forcing a jump ball. The possession arrow favored Ardmore, which led 47-35. Manley reinserted Pickens, who played the rest of the game.
The Lady Tigers never cut their deficit to single digits during the final period.
Ardmore built its lead because the visiting Lady Tigers shot 5 of 6 from three-point distance in the first quarter, helping Ardmore — which wore road jerseys — build a 23-14 lead. Sierra Gordon hit three.
Smiling, Gordon praised Manley for her progression this year.
“She pushed me hard,” Gordon said. “My teammates helped me and I'm so grateful for them for pushing me, telling me to keep going. I've come a long way.”
Tata Lee hit a triple nine seconds into the second period. The Lady Tigers hit six of their initial seven three-point shots. Ardmore finished 7 of 11 from three-point distance. Lee converted four.
Gordon attempted a maximum of two shots after the initial period.
Ardmore also had a 14-0 advantage in second-chance points through the first half, which ended on a blown coverage, allowing a Tahlequah shooter to hit a 3-pointer, which cut the Lady Tigers' deficit to 39-30.
Amaya Gordon had a team-high seven offensive rebounds and 13 total. Of J'Sades Ainsworth's 12 rebounds, four were offensive.
The Lady Tigers junior also scored a game-high 24 points — including 10 in the second half.
Meanwhile, Delaney Nix scored seven points on 2-of-15 shooting, 2-of-11 from three-point range.
“We knew they ran man and that 3-2 zone, so we worked on that,” Manley said. “We also knew that we're going to have to shut down their kid,” Manley said. “We just stuck to the game plan, played hard and took it to them.”
Said Gordon, smiling widely, “We're going to the 'ship.”