By BEN JOHNSON
Sporting a bright orange T-shirt to match her bright orange cast, Randee O’Donnell took on a different role Saturday: cheerleader. Tahlequah’s junior guard was with her teammates at the TMAC, but she wasn’t in any condition to play with her left leg all wrapped up.
That drove her crazy.
“I feel bad for (my teammates) because I feel like I let them down,” O’Donnell said. “...It’s just heartbreaking.”
O’Donnell was forced to sit and watch her club beat Chickasha 68-63 in the Class 5A regional tournament finals after suffering a lower-leg injury on Thursday night in the first round of the regional tournament against Coweta. O’Donnell went for a steal of Coweta’s inbounds pass in the second quarter and came down awkwardly on her ankle.
She knew right away it wasn’t good.
“I was scared,” she said. “I came down on (Coweta’s Kaitlyn Norton’s) foot, and I knew something bad had happened. I slapped the floor out of anger and out of being scared. When I tried to get up, I knew I couldn’t tape it up and keep going.”
Prior to the playoffs this season, O’Donnell had been able to stay injury-free throughout her high school career, which also includes being the shortstop on the Tahlequah softball team.
“I had a busted eye my freshman year,” O’Donnell recalled, “but it never kept me out.”
Against Chickasha, four Tahlequah players scored in double figures. Marisa Girdner led the Lady Tigers with 19 points.
“Everyone had to step up and play above what they had been doing,” Tahlequah coach Chad Walker said. “Just for the simple fact that a real superstar, Randee, was out. I’m proud of the whole team effort.”
After finding out that she avoided a fracture in her lower left leg, O’Donnell said there is still an slim chance of her coming back before the playoffs wrap up.
“(The doctor) said this gives me an outside chance of being back Thursday,” said O’Donnell, whose team will take on Memorial for an area championship on Thursday. “But if not Thursday, after that.”
A year ago, Tahlequah, ranked seventh in Class 5A, came up short of a regional title in a home loss against Bishop Kelley. That stuck with Tahlequah forward Casey Beaston for quite a while.
“That was one of the hardest losses to our team,” Beaston said.
The Lady Tigers didn’t let it happen again this year with a win over Chickasha. With the victory, Tahlequah picked up its first regional title since 2001.
“We’re kind of always that other team on the other side of the court looking at the other team getting the trophy,” Girdner said. “It’s great to actually get the hardware this time.”
As a senior, the regional plaque is indescribable for Alissa Hadley.
“Words don’t even really describe how exciting it is,” she said. “...It’s amazing because we don’t have three of our original starters (O’Donnell, Desiree Phipps, Jhonett Cookson) to begin the season. We really have come together as a team and pulled together to get the win.”