Checotah — The old adage in sports “Defense wins championships” played out Saturday night during the girls Class 4A Regional championship game in Checotah.
After giving up 10 points in the first quarter and trailing by three, the Ada Lady Cougars would hold Victory Christian to 13 points the rest of the game to claim the regional championship with a 32-23 win.
“I thought we came out really tight tonight,” second-year head coach Christie Jennings said. "That had a lot to do with nerves of playing in the regional finals and Victory Christian’s defense in the first half."
Victory Christian (17-7) opened the scoring at the 6:30 mark of the first quarter when Lavanda Thomas hit a 3-pointer. Ada would grab the lead after Aaliyah Blakley inside bucket and Olivia Wells’ two free throws. There were four lead changes in the opening frame. The only other Ada bucket in the first quarter came via Sami Jewett’s 3-pointer. VC led 10-7 at the end of the opening frame.
Ada’s defense made a statement in the second quarter, holding VC to two points. Blakley had six of her game-high 18 points in the frame. Ada had two key defensive stops inside the two minute mark, forcing VC into back-to-back errant passes and turnovers. However, Ada could not convert off either turnover.
With Ada clinging to a one-point lead and VC looking for the final shot before halftime, Haley Dean stole the ball at mid-court and streaked down the left side. A trailing Devanee Simmons was the recipient of a nice wrap-around pass from Dean and Simmons converted on the layup to give Ada a three-point lead at intermission, 15-12.
The second half, although not in total number of points, appeared to be a repeat of Thursday’s game versus Bethel. Ada would limit VC to six points in the third quarter. Blakley did all of Ada’s scoring in the frame, tallying seven points. Ada’s lead was four at 22-18.
VC would be held scoreless over the first five minutes of the final quarter, and the Lady Cougars would score 10 points in the frame behind key free throw shooting. Dean (2), Blakley (1), Jewett (1), Wells (1), and Markeisha Black (1) all converted on charity stripe opportunities over the course of the final eight minutes. With Ada holding on to an eight- point lead, Meneé Thomsen’s nice bullet pass found Wells for an inside bucket to ice the game. A layup by Angelica Cuellar at the 2:35 mark and 3-pointer by Thomas with under one minute to play (and Ada leading by 12) were all VC could muster. Ada’s defense proved to be the key to the game.
"We settled in and made some adjustments to finally pull ahead by a few possessions,” said Jennings. “I thought our defense took over. Defensively, we were good all night.”
Blakley grabbed four rebounds to go with her 18 points. Wells had five points and two rebounds. Jewett, who hit Ada’s only 3-point goal of the night, finished with four points and two rebounds. Dean finished with two points, three assists, two steals, and one board. Markeisha Black had one point and grabbed five rebounds to go with one assist and one steal. Simmons had two points, and grabbed one rebound.
Victory Christian managed to only have three players score due to Ada’s pressure defense. The Lady Conquerors were led by Lavanda Thomas with 10, followed by Angelica Cuellar with eight points and Kacie Kerz with five. Victory finished with seven field goals in the game, five of which came from 3-point land. They finished 4-of-4 from the line.
Ada led every statistical category in the game, inlcuding rebounds 21-10, steals 6-4, assists 5-3 and blocks 1-0. The Lady Cougars also led the turnover margin, a category the coach doesn’t want to see them win.
“Turnovers can kill you in games, as we saw against Shawnee both games this year, so we need to be better taking care of the ball as we continue this run,” Jennings said.
Jennings said her team is sore after the physical battle with Victory Christian, but still focused on the task at hand.
“We are banged up and bruised, but we will be ready for Friday. I’ve told the kids all year that the game doesn’t care if you are hurt, sick, can’t make free throws, or anything else. It just doesn’t care,” she said. “We are going into next week with an attitude of getting it done. No excuses. No explanations. Just find a way.”
Ada (20-5) will play Ft. Gibson in a 4A Area Championship game at Wilburton Friday night at 6:30 pm. Ft. Gibson has been ranked No. 1 most of the year in Class 4A.
“We are really excited to be in this position,” Jennings said shortly after the Lady Cougars accepted their regional championship plaque. “We are one win away from the state tournament, which has been one of our goals this year. Winning a state championship can only happen if we go take care of business next week. Our girls are mature and understand that.”