Sequoyah and Verdigris both have mulligans in their back pockets. Sequoyah coach Jay Herrin would prefer not to use his.
When Sequoyah and Verdigris square off in Checotah on Friday night — girls at 6:30, boys at 8 — both teams will have the luxury of getting a do-over with a state tournament berth up for grabs if they lose in the area championship finals. But Herrin would prefer a victory over Class 3A No. 4 Verdigris, leaving him with an extra day to analyze other state tournament teams.
“We’re solely focused on winning this game,” Herrin said of his team’s matchup with the Cardinals (23-3). “In the back of your mind, you know you live to see another day, but [winning the area championship] gives you an advantage because you can go scout on that Saturday.”
Potential matchups in the state tournament also add extra weight to winning the area championship.
“If we win, we could end up with Atoka or Sperry,” Herrin said. “If we lose, we could draw (third-ranked) Spiro or (second-ranked Oklahoma) Centennial.
“It sets up the state tournament better for ya if you win. It gives you confidence that you were able to win.”
If the Indians (22-3) are to overcome Verdigris, they’ll have to outlast a well-rounded team led by Cade Upshaw.
“They don’t have many weaknesses,” Herrin said of Verdigris, who hasn’t lost since Jan. 25 in a four-point setback against 4A No. 1 Victory Christian in the finals of the Port City Classic.
“They have good guards and a strong post player. They play very good defense and they’re well coached.”
Upshaw enters the area finals averaging 17.6 points per game.
“He presents a deep threat from the 3,” Herrin said. “They have some other guys, too. Laef Payne attacks the rim and finishes, and he protects the rim. They also have (Caleb Jones) back after missing last year, and that’s pushed them over the top.”
Sequoyah will counter with its guard duo of Caisen Green and B.J. Leach and inside presence of Elijah Tucker.
“We feel good going into any game,” Herrin said. “But this one does present a unique set of challenges. Not many teams area as well-rounded as this Verdigris team. It’s going to be a tough game.”
Same can be said for the girls clash between the fourth-ranked (Verdigris) and fifth-ranked (Sequoyah) teams in 3A.
“No doubt, it’s the best team we’ve played all year,” Sequoyah girls coach Larry Callison said. “They’re very good. You’re not ranked (fourth) for nothing. We’ll see a type of team that we haven’t seen all year.”
Callison’s club enters at 24-1 and on a 22-game winning streak. But he knows that run of good fortune could come to an end if his club can’t handle Verdigris’ persistent pestering.
“They’re going to run and jump us,” Callison said. “The key to the game will be if we can handle their pressure. If we don’t turn it over, we could be OK. If we do turn it over, we could be in trouble.”
Callison also pointed out a second storyline.
“It’ll be our size vs. their quickness,” Callison said.
Leading the charge for Verdigris (24-2) is Baileigh O’Dell, a 5-foot-5 Lamar signee who is averaging 21.7 points per game.
“She makes everyone around her better,” Callison said. “And they’re just one of those teams that plays with a lot of confidence. They just do things right and are very fundamentally sound.”
Coming up with simple analysis on how to beat Verdigris, Callison said, “we just have to make the least amount of mistakes.”
If Sequoyah does that it’ll mean another trip to Oklahoma City.