Now Darrick Farriell knows how Ead Simon felt.
Farriell, who left McCurtain to join the Roff family as basketball coach last summer, watched Simon’s Tiger baseball squad start the fall season 18-0, and, despite a 30-1 record and a No. 1 ranking, go into the state tournament with a brutal draw. Roff went one-and-out, losing to eventual state champion Dale on a cold, windy afternoon better suited for football or kite flying.
Several members of that Tiger baseball team are now key players on a Roff basketball squad that has also won 18 straight to start the season, and Farriell said Saturday — after the Tigers beat Tupelo for the S.T.A.R. Tournament crown — his club, like its baseball counterpart, probably earned a better playoff fate with its good work during the regular season.
“I think we have the toughest area of the four,” said Farriell, whose squad — ranked as high as third in Class A in at least one poll used to determine playoff seedings — will start its postseason trek at home on Feb. 9 with a soft district draw (Wilson and Fox) but then faces a tough sub-regional at Crowder (where the hosts are 17-2 and ranked 13th) before moving on to Atoka for a regional final that should include 18-1 Achille (ranked 12th).
If the Tigers (ranked No. 3) survive their regional, their reward could be an eventual date with fifth-ranked New Lima (17-2) for the area championship at Ada’s Cougar Activity Center the following week.
“Achille, Crowder, Rock Creek and Boswell (runner-up to Achille in last week’s Bryan County Tournament) are all good teams who probably didn’t get the respect they deserved (in the rankings),” Farriell said. “But I told the kids that if we can’t beat good teams to get to the state tournament, then we probably don’t deserve to be there, anyway.”
In contrast to Farriell, Stonewall’s Christie Jennings — whose seventh-ranked club improved to 18-1 with a 53-41 victory over No. 11 Strother in the S.T.A.R. girls final Saturday — was ecstatic about her team’s playoff road, even though the Lady Longhorns face lengthy trips to Macomb for the regional final and to Chickasha for their area tournament.
“We’re very pleased with our draw,” said Jennings, whose club was the victim of a tough early draw and went quietly in the playoffs last year (her first at Stonewall) after a surprising 18-6 regular season. “We only have one other team ranked as high as us (sixth-ranked Davenport, 15-1) in our area.
“I was a little bit surprised, because I thought we would would go east or southeast, and those areas are a lot tougher,” she added. “I think our record really helped us.”
And, because each school’s playoff draw is, for the most part, determined based on the boys or girls team at that school having the best season, Stonewall’s 11-8 boys squad (third in the S.T.A.R. Tournament) faces a playoff trek that, while a little tougher than the girls, isn’t as tough as last season — when the Longhorns lost to Roff in the district round and were eliminated by the Tigers in the regional tournament.
The Stonewall boys have a much tougher district draw than the girls, because Stratford’s boys squad is 12-3, while its girls team is 4-10, but the rest of the regional has only one Top 10 team — No. 6 Okarche — and only two Top 20 clubs (Okarche and No. 11 Waurika). That makes the likely Stonewall-Stratford showdown for the boys district title — a game that will feature several of the area’s top players (Stonewall’s Brian Monroe and Bo Scribner and Stratford’s Garan Qualls and T. J. Gaines) a key to each team’s survival down the road.
Allen’s girls — coming off a disappointing S.T.A.R. performance that ended with back-to-back losses to Strother and Tupelo — might have the toughest draw of any area team, with a regional field headed by No. 3 New Lima (18-1) and No. 10 Smithville (perhaps the state’s most underrated girls squad) and an area that also includes No. 4 Crowder. Allen dropped out of the rankings from No. 19 in this week’s CoachesAid poll.
For the second straight year, Tupelo’s boys seemed to get very little respect from the committee drawing up the playoff backets, despite a trip to the area finals last season and a solid 12-8 record this season that includes three losses to Roff. The Tigers face a district showdown with No. 6 Pittsburg, a regional that includes No. 12 Red Oak and, if they survive, a potential meeting with undefeated and second-ranked Stringtown for the second year in a row in the area tournament.
Tupelo’s draw is reminiscent of last season, when the Tigers had to beat a tough Wapanucka club in the district round and Pittsburg in the regional to earn a trip to the area tournament (where they upset Stringtown, 55-54, in a thriller before suffering a second postseason loss to highly-ranked Butner in the area finals).
Despite what appears to be a tough draw, however, Tupelo coach Clay Weller said he thinks his club — which gave Roff all it could handle Saturday before falling, 35-27 — has a chance to make some postseason noise for the second straight year.
“It’s just like like last year,” he said. “We have a tough district, we have to beat Pittsburg (a team that beat the Tigers by four points at Tupelo early in season) and, down, the road, Stringtown.
“If we go play, we could make a pretty good run,” he added. “Our district might be tougher than our regional, so if we beat Pittsburg we could legitimately get through our area.”
Tupelo’s girls, who climbed back into the rankings in the No. 18 spot this week and went 2-for-3 at the S.T.A.R. Tournament (losing to Stonewall in the semis and beating Allen Friday for third place), also must face a Pittsburg club in the district round that beat them during the regular season.
If they survive the rematch with Pittsburg (ranked No. 5), the Lady Tigers — 14-6 after winning just eight games last season and boasting two of the area’s top players in junior Kendra Pearce and sophomore Katie Campbell — have two other ranked teams (No. 15 Eagletown and No. 20 Bowlegs) in their regional and two more dandies (No. 4 Kiowa and No. 9 Coleman) in their area.
Now Darrick Farriell knows how Ead Simon felt.