By BEN JOHNSON
It was going to be a typical summer afternoon in Tahlequah. A group of teenagers heading to the Illinois River to do some swimming to cool off.
Those plans changed in one tragic second.
Trinton Herron, transitioning from his sophomore to junior year at Sequoyah High School, was killed in a car crash on West Choctaw Street.
Caisen Green didn’t believe it when he got the news.
“B.J. (Leach) called me and told me that Trinton passed away,” Green recalled. “I thought he was joking; I didn’t think he was serious.”
The sobering news was in fact true. Yet, for Green, it didn’t sink for quite some time.
“For a couple of weeks, it didn’t hit me,” Green said. “But after the funeral, it really got me hard.”
Some of Herron’s football and basketball teammates helped lay his body to rest at the grave site. And Sequoyah coach Jay Herrin said that was a tough moment for himself and his players.
“Everybody was there and our kids were pallbearers,” Herrin said, “and our whole team was there. It was tough but we addressed it then.”
Now nearly nine months after Herron’s passing, his basketball teammates are still paying homage to their fallen teammate. The Indians are wearing socks and shirts under their jerseys that include Herron’s initials and his number, 21.
“He’s in the back of our minds all the time, because he was a big part of building our success,” Herrin said. “And we never will forget that.”
It was during the playoffs last season that Herron helped pave the way for Sequoyah to make the Class 3A state tournament. In the regional semifinals at Beggs, Herron drained a free throw with two-tenths of a second left to send Sequoyah to a 57-56 win over Beggs. The Indians went on to claim regional and area championships and made it to the state semifinals before a season-ending loss to Okemah.
“Chances are we wouldn’t be where we are today without him hitting that shot,” Herrin said. “That was the boost that pushed us on our playoff run last year, because if we drop that game who knows if we make the state tournament. That was a huge moment in Sequoyah basketball.”
Now Green and Co. want to add to Sequoyah basketball lore, especially after Herron’s prognostication last year.
“He told us all that we were going to win state this upcoming year,” Green said. “We just want to try and do that for him.”
Class 3A boys state capsules
No. 5 Sequoyah Indians
Coach: Jay Herrin.
Players to watch: Caisen Green (6-2, Sr., 19.5 ppg), B.J. Leach (6-0, Jr., 10.4 ppg), Zach Parish (6-2, Jr., 8.9 ppg).
Notes: Indians are back in the state tournament for the second straight season. ... Sequoyah beat Verdigris, 64-55, in the Area IV finals. ... Green led the Indians in the area championship game with 26 points, which helped him eclipse the 1,000-point mark in his career. He now has 1,016 points going into the state tournament.
No. 7 Sperry Pirates
Coach: Lance Kight.
Players to watch: Casey Cole (6-7, Sr., 18.7 ppg), Peyton Pratt (6-1, Jr., 19.9 ppg).
Notes: The Pirates took the long way in advancing to the state tournament. A district tournament loss to Newkirk meant the Pirates needed wins over Pawhuska, Morris, Okmulgee, Lincoln Christian, Henryetta and Nowata (in the area consolation game) to claim a state tournament berth. ... Sperry has played only two games against 3A state tournament teams — both against Verdigris. The Pirates lost both.
No. 1 Okemah Panthers
Coach: Kale Simon.
Players to watch: Austin Guinn (6-3, Sr., 17 ppg).
Notes: Okemah, ranked first in 3A all season long, has only played six games — out of 27 — that have been decided by 10 points or less. In the playoffs, the Panthers closest game was a 14-point victory over ASTEC Charter in the regional finals. ... Okemah lost in three overtime periods to Millwood in the 3A championship game last season. ... The Panthers reached the state tournament with a 77-58 victory over Atoka in the area finals.
No. 9 Heritage Hall Chargers
Coach: Chris Hamilton.
Players to watch: Chris Hamilton (5-10, 11 ppg).
Notes: The Chargers lost a four-point game to Centennial in the area finals but bounced back to beat Perkins-Tryon, 45-44, in the area consolation championship for a berth in the state tournament. ... Heritage Hall is back in the state tournament for the first time since 1977.
No. 3 Spiro Bulldogs
Coach: Dustin Gist.
Players to watch: Knifeis Carter (5-11, Sr.), McKinley Whitfield (6-4, Jr.).
Notes: The Bulldogs’ only two losses this season came in a span of three games. Spiro lost to Roland 63-56 in overtime on Jan. 28 and then lost to Stilwell 57-56 on Feb. 7. ... Spiro is 8-2 against ranked teams this year. ... The Bulldogs made their way to the state tournament with a 52-44 win over Nowata in the area finals.
No. 4 Verdigris Cardinals
Coach: Randy Upshaw
Players to watch: Cade Upshaw (5-9, Jr., 17.4 ppg), Caleb Jones (6-4, Sr., 16.7 ppg), Laef Payne (5-9, Soph., 11.4 ppg).
Notes: All four of Verdigris’ losses this season have come in tournament play. Inola (Jerry O’Quin Invitational), Locust Grove (Bank of Locust Grove tournament) and Victory Christian (Port City Classic) were three losses in regular-season tournaments. Then the Cardinals lost to Sequoyah in the area finals on Friday night. ... Verdigris atoned for its loss in the area championship by beating Antlers, 72-42, in the area consolation contest.
No. 6 Atoka Wampus Cats
Coach: Russ Harrison.
Notes: Atoka is 10-1 in tournament play this season. The Wampus Cats’ lone loss was to Okemah in the area championship game. However, Atoka made up for the loss with a 63-37 win over Hugo in the area consolation contest. ... Atoka is 7-2 against ranked teams this season. Three of wins were against Hugo.
No. 2 Centennial Bison
Coach: Garrette Mantle.
Players to watch: Austin Garner (6-7, Sr., 14.1 ppg), Cory Morgan (6-2, Jr., 14.0 ppg).
Notes: The Bison won 3A state championships in 2011 and 2012, but had their championship run end with a semifinal loss to eventual state champion Millwood in 2013. ... Centenntial’s only two losses this season have come against 6A’s Lawton Eisenhower and Heritage Hall. ... The Bison beat Heritage Hall, 52-48, to reach the state tournament.