LATTA — Sometimes a coach just has to go with his gut.
David Tinkler can trace a lot of his success this season — his first leading the Latta girls program — to the emergence of freshman star Skyler Jenson. But Jenson was on the bench as the Lady Panthers opened the third quarter with a 10-0 run to take control of Friday night’s game against Konawa, and she didn’t attempt her first shot in the second half until early in the fourth quarter.
Jenson came to life when it counted, though, scoring Latta’s final six points in a 53-46 victory that gave the Lady Panthers a season sweep of a team that dominated them a year ago.
“I thought it was a good time to mix it up a little bit,” Tinkler said of his decision to start Charissa Smith instead of Jenson to open the second half. “I wanted to use my bench. It’s getting close to the end of the year, and they need to get more minutes.”
In the boys contest, Latta stars Isaac Vandever and Kolbie Brown combined for 33 points and keyed a ferocious defensive effort as the 20th-ranked (Class 2A) Panthers also completed a season sweep of Konawa with a 53-41 victory.
Latta 53, Konawa 46
After trailing, 13-2, late in the first quarter and 22-18 at halftime, Latta took command with its spurt early in the third period and led by nine (47-38) after Chelsey Bennett’s layup with just 2:14 to play.
But Konawa (11-9) took advantage of back-to-back Latta turnovers to score seven straight points over the next minute and cut the lead to two on a layup by Rachael Cole off a nice pass from Erin Fixico with 1:15 remaining. Sophomore guard Kelsey Howard drained a 3-pointer from the corner with 1:57 left to start the run, and she assisted on Cole’s jumper 12 seconds later that made it 47-43.
The Lady Tigers had a chance to tie the score after Cole got a steal under the Latta basket with a minute to play, but Lindsey Keene was called for traveling with 57.6 seconds showing on the clock, and Jenson’s driving layup six seconds later gave Latta some breathing room at 49-45.
Howard hit the first of two free throws to cut the margin to three with 37.7 seconds remaining, then Jenson grabbed the rebound on Howard’s missed second shot and hit a point-blank jumper at the other end to make it 51-46 with just 22 seconds left.
After Hilary Kuestersteffen misfired on a 3-pointer, Tosha MacCollister — who scored a season-high 16 points for Latta — missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Howard was off on a desperation 3-point attempt at the other end. Jenson grabbed the rebound and went coast-to-coast to score the game’s final basket on a layup at the buzzer.
“This was a good win for us,” Tinkler said after watching his club improve to 5-3 since Christmas and to 13-7 on the season. “I think the girls showed a lot of character to come back after being down 13-2.”
Konawa dominated most of the first period, grabbing the 11-point lead (biggest by either team in the game) when Kuestersteffen hit a 12-footer off an assist from Rehea Grant with 1:30 left. Latta was 0-for-6 and had three turnovers before Jenson hit a layup off a Chelsey Bennett assist with 3:15 remaining the quarter to trim a 9-0 Konawa lead to seven.
Cole, who had seven points, two rebounds and a blocked shot in the first five minutes of the game, answered with a layup off another Grant assist to make it 11-2, and Grant got her third assist of the quarter on a Kuestersteffen jumper to increase the lead to 13-2 at the 1:30 mark.
But Cole — a 6-1 senior — picked up her second foul 30 seconds later and sat out the rest of the half, and Latta took advantage of her absence to score 16 of the next 20 points — including 11 by MacCollister on 5-for-5 shooting — and grabbed an 18-17 lead on a MacCollister layup off a Keisha Williams assist with 1:28 left in the half.
After a Howard 3-pointer and Amber Lamb’s only basket of the game — a layup with 50 seconds left — gave Konawa its four-point halftime lead, the Lady Tigers missed eight straight shots and had four turnovers in the first six minutes of the third quarter.
Latta, meanwhile, got a bucket from Smith (off a MacCollister assist) and four straight baskets from Bennett to take a 28-22 lead with 3:30 left in the period. Then, after Konawa cut it to 28-26 on Fixico’s putback of an offensive rebound at the 1:38 mark, Bennett and MacCollister combined for 11 points in a 12-6 run over the next five minutes.
The Lady Tigers scored six of the next eight points (all by Cole) to cut it to 42-38 with three minutes left, but Smith’s 3-point play (following an offensive rebound) and Bennett’s layup after a steal and assist by MacCollister gave Latta its nine-point lead with 2:14 left and set up the game’s wild finish.
Bennett and MacCollister combined for 32 points on 14-for-20 shooting (including 7-for-8 by MacCollister) and five steals (three by MacCollister), and Jenson added 11 points and six rebounds, although she didn’t have a field goal attempt and managed just one free throw in the second and third periods. The game marked the 32nd time in 40 games this season that Bennett and/or Jenson scored in double figures.
Smith came off the bench to score five key points in the second half and added two rebounds, a steal, an assist and a blocked shot; Beth Nevland scored only two points, but she had six rebounds and four assists; and Casey Morgan was 0-for-2 from the field and finished with just one point, but she had a team-high seven rebounds and added two assists and two steals for Latta.
Cole had 12 of her game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter and added five rebounds and three steals, and Howard finished with 12 points (on 3-of-15 shooting) and four assists. Grant was only 1-for-3 from the field before fouling out in the fourth quarter, but she had six rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
Latta 52, Konawa 41
Like the Latta girls, the Panthers trailed early, falling behind 10-6 after a steal and layup by Konawa’s Tyler Henshall with 2:30 left in the opening quarter, but Latta took the lead for the first time at 16-15 on a pair of Brown free throws with 4:38 left in the half and moved on top for good when Brown drained a 3-pointer to make it 21-18 at the 3:12 mark.
The Panthers led just 24-20 at intermission but extended their lead to 36-22 on another Brown 3-pointer (his final basket of the game) with 4:30 left in the third quarter, and they led by as many as 17 points (47-30 after a pair of Vandever free throws with 3:39 to play) in the fourth period.
“Other than not making free throws, we played pretty well,” Latta coach Donnie Husband said after seeing his club improve to 13-7 despite going 9-for-20 from the line. “Tonight was the best team defense we’ve played all year. We looked like we wanted to guard somebody, and we kept (Konawa) off the boards.
“On offense, we took care of the ball and made good decisions.”
Brown was the dominant player on the floor in the first half, scoring 13 of his 16 points before intermission, and Vandever took over down the stretch, scoring 11 of his game-high 17 in the final two periods after taking only one shot in a second quarter that saw Brown score nine points. Vandever, a 6-5 senior, also had six rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals, while Brown added six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Dalton Brown, Latta’s sophomore point guard, scored six points and added five assists and two rebounds, and Jay Husband and Dakota Roebuck combined for six points (all by Roebuck), four rebounds (three by Roebuck), four assists (three by Husband) and two steals (both by Roebuck) replacing junior guard Trevan Jimboy, who sat out his second straight game and who will be ineligible to play for at least another week.
Konawa (12-7) had three players in double figures — Ethan Johnson (12 points), Henshall (11 points and seven rebounds) and Kyle White (10) — and got a game-high nine rebounds from Ronnie Osborn in the loss.
Latta will host Roff and Konawa will travel to Dale Tuesday.
LATTA — Sometimes a coach just has to go with his gut.