Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

March 1, 2013

State bound

Tahlequah knocks off Memorial for 1st state tournament berth since 2001.

SAPULPA — Head coach Chad Walker took a deep breath and asked a simple, yet profound, question.

“We lost three starters during this season and we’re going to state. Have you ever heard of a team doing that?”

In the climax of what has truly been a remarkable run, Tahlequah punched its first ticket to the state tournament since 2001 with a hard-fought 43-36 decision over Tulsa Memorial in the Class 5A area championship game on Thursday night inside the Chieftain Center.

After seeing two starters go down with injuries and losing a third to attrition, Walker saw his team band together on Thursday night as it has all season and use an 8-2 run to close the game and pull away from the pesky Chargers.

“It’s not the coaching, it’s the girls,” Walker said with a smile, clutching the area championship plaque. “We’ve been building for this ever since we let a regional championship slip away last year. These girls have been through a lot and done more than we’ve asked them to do.”

One of those girls was junior point guard Marisa Girdner, who paced the team with 14 points and was one of eight Tigers to score on the night.

With the teams tied at 28 early in the final period, Girdner hit a 3-pointer and sunk two free throws on consecutive possessions to push the Tigers to a 33-28 lead with 6:02 to play.

Memorial, however, would not go away as Faith Ihim kept the Chargers in the game, scoring 10 of her game-high 26 points in the final period, including an inside basket with 2:36 left that pulled the Chargers within 35-34.

Casey Beaston then made one of the biggest plays of the night, getting a rebound and scoring inside to push the Tahlequah advantage to 37-34. Then, after blocking a shot on the Memorial end, Beaston was fouled and calmly sank two free throws to extend the lead.

“Casey did a great job inside,” Walker said. “She blocked shots. She got rebounds. She made a difference inside.”

Whitney Wright’s only basket of the game was a big one as the junior split the Memorial pressure defense and scored to make give Tahlequah a 41-36 lead with 54.2 seconds left.

Both teams looked tight to start the game, with Tahlequah logging four turnovers on their first six trips down the court and Memorial hitting just one of its first six shots. The nerves accounted for a 2-1 score with three minutes elapsed.

Girdner, however, would start to heat up for the Tigers, hitting a running shot and a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions to give Tahlequah its first lead of the night.

Leading by just one at the end of the first quarter, Tahlequah fell behind 14-12 on a 3-point play by Ihim with 6:12 left before halftime. That, however, would be the last Memorial field goal allowed by the Tigers until the half’s final seconds, with Tahlequah piecing together an 11-4 run to close the second period.

Reagan Clark highlighted the run, putting back a missed shot by Paige Carnes while being fouled on the play. Her subsequent free throw pushed Tahlequah to its largest lead of the first half, 23-16 with 32.8 seconds left before intermission.

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