ADA — “Loser’s bracket” might be the most misleading term in basketball.
Sure, it only takes one loss to get there. But once there, a team has to keep winning to stay.
Five of the seven south central Oklahoma teams still alive in the playoffs in Classes 2A, 4A or 5A face loser’s bracket contests in area tournaments at three sites — McAlester, Choctaw and Edmond — Thursday, and all have taken roads to get to this point that have stamped them as anything but losers.
One (Ada’s Lady Cougars in Class 5A) has a tradition of state tournament appearances (eight in 13 years) and is the youngest (starting just one senior and one junior), the winningest (18-6) and the only ranked (No. 11) member of the group; another (the Byng girls in 4A) has been forced to overcome one hurdle after another this season but survived to the area tournament despite a losing (12-16) record; still another (the Latta Lady Panthers in 2A) has a group of seniors and a coach who had never made it out of a regional tournament before; and a fourth (the Konawa Lady Tigers) was the dominant team in this area last season and has apparently hit its stride in the playoffs after a disappointing regular season.
The only boys team in the group (Konawa) lost its two leading scorers from last year (Darren Townley, who moved to Washington after averaging 20 points per game and Nick Stephens, who graduated), yet has lost only to Latta (which beat second-ranked Wewoka Saturday and will play in the area championship Friday in McAlester) in the playoffs and has already added six victories to last season’s win total.
Ada, which lost, 48-44, in overtime at Duncan Saturday, will meet 14th-ranked El Reno (13-11) Thursday at 8 p.m. at Edmond Santa Fe; Byng, coming off two narrow losses to surive the regional, will face 11th-ranked Cache (17-5) at 1:30 p.m. at Choctaw High School; Latta, which improved to 17-10 with a victory over Wewoka Saturday, takes on eighth-ranked Warner (20-2) at 1:30 p.m. at the Expo Center in McAlester; and the Konawa girls (14-11 after losing, 50-44, to sixth-ranked Coalgate in Saturday’s regional final) will meet Haworth (unranked despite a 22-6 record and a team Konawa beat in last year’s regional championship game) at 6:30 p.m., while the boys (17-8) will face 16th-ranked Pocola (15-7) at 3 p.m., also at McAlester.
Ada vs. El Reno
Ada suffered one of the most bizarre losses in Jeff Maloy’s 14 seasons at the school Saturday when freshman guard Jourdan Clark called a timeout the Lady Cougars didn’t have in overtime, resulting in a technical foul that ignited a 7-0 Duncan spurt to close the game.
But as a result of the loss, Ada (with probable games against El Reno Thursday and 12th-ranked John Marshall Saturday) could have an easier road to the state tournament than Duncan. Although the Lady Demons need only to beat third-ranked Carl Albert Friday to earn a trip to Oklahoma City, a loss will probably send them against Harrah, one of 5A’s hottest teams and ranked sixth last week, in a must-win game Saturday.
“I don’t know if there’s much difference in those four teams (El Reno, John Marshall, Carl Albert and Harrah), but you’d probably rather play the teams we have than the teams Duncan will have to play,” Maloy said. “The thing is, if you go (into the area tournament) as a winner, you only have to win one game to get to the state tournament, and you go in as a winner. But right now, we’re just trying to get there.”
Ada dominated most of Saturday’s game before finally losing the lead with 52 seconds left in overtime (21 seconds after the technical was called with Ada up, 44-41), and the Lady Cougars (whose only two losses in their last dozen games have been to Duncan and 10th-ranked McAlester) seem to be playing their best basketball of the season heading into the area tournament. Clark has been spectacular at times at point guard, Molly Maloy (who had 21 points Saturday and was 5-of-6 from 3-point range) has become one of 5A’s most dangerous outside shooters, and sophomore center/forward Lauren Whitworth (who had a streak of seven straight double-figure scoring efforts snapped Saturday) has evolved into a consistent scorer.
“Molly is shooting well, but Jourdan has been doing some things to make her better, and Lauren Whitworth has been solid,” Jeff Maloy said. “I thought our kids were real coachable (against Duncan). They were able to adjust, and they did everything we asked of them. They just didn’t win. One of the hardest things to take out of a loss is when you outplay a team on that day.”
El Reno beat Guthrie 31-23 in the regional semifinals before losing to Carl Albert, 44-42, in overtime Saturday, and the Lady Indians will come into Thursday’s game with their highest ranking of the season.
Byng vs. Cache
Byng rebounded from a loss to Anadarko to beat Dickson and Tuttle and survive the regional tournament, and coach Joe Neely said his Lady Pirates — who finished 23-7 and reached the area finals last season — have become a very dangerous team.
“We’re confident we can beat anybody right now,” Neely said. “Even in the games we’ve lost recently, we’ve played pretty well.
“We just couldn’t get over the hump early in the season — everything that could go wrong went wrong, and we kind of lost our edge,” he added. “We were expecting the worst, but now we’re expecting something good to happen.”
Senior point guard Stacie Bell (who scored 20 points in the win over Dickson and 12 more against Tuttle) and junior forward Whitney Harris have been solid in Byng’s recent games, and the Lady Pirates have been bolstered by the return of sophomore Brooke Harris (who tore up her ankle during softball season) and solid play from forward Brittney Lee.
“Stacie and Whitney have the best chance to lead us in scoring, but at this point, we have to have everybody step up,” Neely said. “Our kids are having fun right now, and they’re enjoying the excitement of the playoffs.”
Cache, meanwhile, comes into Thursday’s game off a loss to No. 10 Bishop McGuinness in the regional championship game.
Latta vs. Warner
First-year coach David Tinkler never got past the regional championship game in six seasons as the Stonewall boys coach, and Latta’s seniors — including starters Chelsey Bennett, Casey Morgan, Beth Nevland and Tosha MacCollister — had never advanced past the second round of regionals before their 66-60 victory over Wewoka Saturday afternoon.
“They’ve made a big step this season,” Tinkler said of his upperclassmen, who have welcomed forward Skyler Jenson (who has joined Jourdan Clark as the area’s top two freshmen) to the fold and have shown marked improvement despite playing one of the region’s toughest schedules. “It’s been a good year. We’ve probably lost a couple of games during the season we shouldn’t have lost, but I’ve been pleased with our effort, especially on defense the last couple of games.
“I’m tickled for the kids, because so much work goes into this,” Tinkler said. “To take one on the chin Thursday night (in a 58-50 loss to Konawa) and come back and beat a couple of good teams (Vanoss and Wewoka) has to give us some momentum and confidence.”
In Warner, the Lady Panthers will face a club that pushed third-ranked Pocola to the limit before losing 39-35 in Saturday’s regional final, and Tinkler said the Lady Eagles should present a big challenge.
“Warner isn’t real tall overall, but they have a six-foot post girl who has really good hands,” he said. “Warner has a good team and they’re well-coached, but it’s a winnable game for us.”
Konawa vs. Haworth
Several area teams have been settling old scores with the Lady Tigers, who lost eight of their top 10 players to graduatin after a dominant run to the state tournament last season (when they didn’t lose to an area squad), and Konawa boys and girls coach Gordon Garner hopes Haworth won’t follow suit.
“We beat some people pretty good last year, and we were ranked pretty high in preseason, so we had a bullseye on our backs when the season started,” said Garner, whose club was led to the regional title game by senior center Rachael Cole, sophomore guard Kelsey Howard and sophomore foward Rehea Grant. “We were just a so-so team at the start of the season, and our schedule was tough, but we shored up our defense and made some shots in the regional. When the ball goes in the hoop, everything looks better.
“Haworth has their leading scorer back from last year and they gave us fits in the (2005) regional,” he added. “They’re athletic and they’re good enough to beat us, but my kids are starting to come around. We’re going to have to play some good teams to get out of the area, but I think these girls are starting to believe they can compete with those teams.”
Konawa vs. Pocola
Konawa was victimized by Trevan Jimboy’s 23-point fourth-quarter explosion in a first-round regional loss to Latta, but the Tigers — behind the scoring of center Lee Mullins and solid backcourt play from Tyler Henshall and Ethan Johnson — bounced back to beat good teams from Tushka and Coalgate to survive into the area round.
“It’s been a good year for the boys,” said Garner, whose Townley-led first team at Konawa bowed out quietly early in the regional last year to finish 11-11. “We’re in uncharted waters, but I like their attitude.
“Our starting five (Mullins, Henshall, Andrew Barnard, Ronnie Osborn and Shane Anderson) have done a good job, and we’ve had good minutes off the bench. I’m not shy about going eight or 10-deep, and that makes us hard to defend.”
Pocola lost to sixth-ranked Stroud (63-49) in the regional final, and Garner said he has been impressed by what he’s seen of the Indians.
“They’re big and athletic,” he said. “They’re physically good-looking kids, and they have some players who can shoot the basketball. They’ll give us all we want.”
ADA — “Loser’s bracket” might be the most misleading term in basketball.