By BEN JOHNSON
MUSKOGEE — Getting the ball across mid court was a challenge — at times, impossible. Free throws became increasingly difficult, too.
This was Hulbert’s plight in the fourth quarter against Haskell on Monday evening.
“It kind of looked like a first game back from Christmas break,” Hulbert coach Rick Ott said, “if we hadn’t already burnt one down there [in Sallisaw on Friday] and used that excuse.”
Luckily for Hulbert, Allison Arnall came to the rescue. The senior guard was perfect at the free-throw line in the final eight minutes, guiding the Lady Riders to a 52-47 win in front of a sparse crowd at the Muskogee Civic Center.
“I feel like (hitting free throws) is my responsibility,” said Arnall, who scored nine of her 11 points in the final period. “...I feel like I have to be the leader in those situations, so I just have to keep calm and don’t panic.”
In addition to making foul shots, Arnall also came up with a huge defensive stop midway through the fourth quarter.
Down by two (44-42) with 3:56 left, Haskell’s Tashay Love hoisted up a 3-pointer only to have Arnall swipe it away. Arnall’s block landed in Brooke Bailey’s hands, and she was fouled by Haskell’s Denora Wheeland, who fouled out as a result.
“That, to me, was huge,” said Arnall, who also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. “I’m glad Brooke was there to catch the tip off of me and then go hit some free throws.”
Bailey drained one foul shot, giving Hulbert a three-point cushion. And the Lady Riders never relinquished their advantage the rest of the way.
Haskell (3-5) made one final push inside the final minute, though.
Trailing 48-44 with 20 seconds left, Love was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer, sending her to the line to cut into Hulbert’s lead. However, Love misfired on two of three from the charity stripe, and Arnall followed with two free throws for Hulbert to put the game away for good.
It seemed treacherous for Hulbert, at times. After all, the Lady Riders did turn the ball over 25 times — eight times in the fourth quarter.
“I attribute a lot of it to growing pains,” Ott said of his team’s turnovers. “We still have a tendency to look for No. 11 (Arnall), give it to her and get out of her way.
“We had a bunch of turnovers, but it seemed like we withstood every charge they made.”
That’s exactly what Hulbert did. Despite six lead changes and two ties, Hulbert improved to 9-2 and advanced to the semifinals of the Bedouin Shrine Classic. The Lady Riders’ next game will be Friday at 4:30 p.m. at the Muskogee Civic Center against the winner of the Oktaha-Summit Christian game, which will be played on Tuesday.
Hulbert also survived in spite of Arnall being tagged with her third foul at the 3:30 mark in the second quarter.
No doubt, nerve-wracking times for Hulbert.
“I was about to have a panic attack,” said Arnall, whose only break during the game was a couple of seconds at the end of the third quarter. “I was just like, ‘don’t foul, don’t foul. Keep your hands up, don’t foul.’ That’s all I could tell myself.”
Joining Arnall in the offensive mix for Hulbert was Lindsay Krueger, who led all scorers with 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting effort. Tiffany Thompson also scored in double figures for the Lady Riders with 11.
Hulbert shot 40 percent (16 of 40) from the field and 16 of 24 from the free-throw line. Haskell, who was out-rebounded 33-24, shot 26.8 percent (19 of 71) from the floor.
Sherrell McHenry paced Haskell with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
As for the possibility of playing Class 2A No. 4 Oktaha on Friday night, Arnall said, “I haven’t gotten to see them since my freshman year here when I played with Paiten (Taylor) and beat them in the finals. So I’m ready to see if we’re ready to take that task on.”
Hulbert 52, Haskell 47
Hul 14 12 10 16 - 52
Has 6 16 13 12 - 47
Hulbert (9-2): Lindsay Krueger 26, Tiffany Thompson 11, Allison Arnall 11, Brooke Bailey 4.
Haskell (3-5): Sherrell McHenry 17, Madison Cheatham 9, Wheeland 7, Bolding 5, Lewis 5, Love 4.