By Murray Evans
For The Ardmoreite
NORMAN – Ardmore girls basketball coach Debra Manley figured her players might be a bit nervous at the start of the Class 5A area title game Thursday against Del City, but she didn’t plan for the third-ranked Tigers to fall into a 8-0 hole.
Fortunately for Ardmore, the Tigers’ defense and rebounding soon kicked in and that proved to be more than enough to lift them to a 58-46 win over the 10th-ranked Eagles at Dan Quinn Gym. Ardmore (22-4) will find out Sunday who its quarterfinal opponent will be in the 5A state tournament, which will start next Thursday at Owasso High School.
"We’ve dreamed about this moment," Manley said. "These kids have worked very hard in practice and at summer camp. Our goal was to get back to Tulsa. We’ve been there, but we’ve been going every other year. We wanted to break that curse and go back-to-back."
Rebounding was huge for the Tigers against Del City, as they often limited the Eagles – who had a penchant for taking deep shots, going 7 of 29 from 3-point range – to just one shot per possession. Four Ardmore players – Tiona Cohee, Reagan McCurley, Miyah McGee and Amaya Gordon – grabbed at least seven rebounds, giving the Tigers a huge 41-26 advantage in that statistical category.
Not coincidentally, the one quarter in which Del City outrebounded the Tigers (the third) was the only quarter in which the Eagles also outscored Ardmore.
"In the third quarter, we got a little sluggish there," Manley said. "We harped on that at half. They came back out (in the fourth quarter) and we got at them. I’ve got some great rebounding kids, so it’s hard for any of them to get a double-double. I told them that rebounds were going to be a key to this game. We had to rebound the ball, no matter what."
The Tigers’ start wasn’t their best, as they missed their first three shots and had four turnovers as Del City (15-10) jumped to an 8-0 lead on a 3-pointer by Erie Patterson at the 4:56 mark. But the Eagles scored only two points over the next nine minutes as Ardmore’s defense ratcheted up a notch.
By the end of the first quarter, Ardmore led 10-8 and the Tigers extended that margin to 17-10, then later to 27-19 when McCurley scored on a put-back basket moments before the halftime buzzer.
Del City opened the third quarter on a 12-4 run and tied the game at 31-31 on a put-back by Jaylnn McCallister at the 2:44 mark. Again, Ardmore had an answer. Khalayah Willis hit a 3-pointer 22 seconds later to put Ardmore back up and another basket by McCurley – who went 7 of 10 from the field and scored a team-high 14 points – gave the Tigers a five-point cushion entering the fourth quarter.
The Eagles still were within five at 41-36 with 6:01 left, but Shakira Smith, Gordon and Cohee each had a basket in a 6-0 spurt that pushed Ardmore’s lead to 47-36 with 5:10 left.
Del City had one last rally, coming within 49-44 after a 3-pointer by McCallister with 2:24 left, but that proved to be the Eagles’ last basket and Ardmore closed the game on a 9-2 run.
"In the fourth quarter, we thought, ‘We can do this. We got this.’ There wasn’t really a doubt in my mind that we couldn’t do it," Gordon said. "When the buzzer went off, I was like, ‘This is it. We did it. We’re going to state.’"
Smith and Gordon each scored 10 points for the Tigers, with Gordon adding five steals. McGee had eight points, nine rebounds and five assists.
McCallister led Del City with 13 points, while B.B. Polk and A.J. Smithers added 11 each.