ADA — Just 24 hours after an ugly 47-35 victory over Class B No. 1 Kiowa to close out Thursday’s first round of the Bertha Frank Teague Mid-America Classic, Preston coach Mickey Duncan was glad to see his Lady Pirates doing the things they do best in Friday’s semifinal “contest” with Class 3A power Verdigris.

Preston — ranked No. 1 in Class A and the state’s highest-scoring girls team at 93.4 points per game coming into the Mid-America — sprinted to a 15-1 lead in the first 3:16 and never looked back, cruising to a 67-50 victory that left Duncan’s club a perfect 9-0 heading into Saturday’s championship showdown with Class 6A No. 2 Tulsa Union.

“This was more like my team tonight,” Duncan said after watching the Lady Pirates lead by double digits for the final 20:44 against a Verdigris club that had beaten Class A No. 4 Okarche Thursday and lost to Class 4A No. 2 Cache Saturday in the third-place game. “We came out with a lot more fire.”

Lauren Abbott, a 6-1 senior who is one of three six-footers in Preston’s front-line rotation, started a big night for herself with back-to-back putbacks of offensive rebounds in the first 35 seconds and converted a 3-point play after being fouled on the second basket to give the Lady Pirates a 5-0 lead. Guards Maylisa Johnson and Sierra Cornwell then combined for the final 10 points in Preston’s decisive run to open the game.

Johnson — who followed her 14-point, nine-rebound, eight-assist effort against Kiowa with 10 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three steals and a blocked shot Friday — went coast-to-coast with a rebound and banked in a short jumper to make it 7-0 with 7:10 still left in the quarter, and her fast-break layup at the 5:16 mark put Preston up 13-1.

“Maylisa makes us go,” Duncan said of his 5-9 junior point guard. “She makes everybody around her better.”

Cornwell, who had only six points against Kiowa but added five rebounds, three assists and five steals in that victory, came back with 16 points and seven steals against Verdigris, and she scored six of the final eight points in Preston’s opening salvo. A 5-8 junior, Cornwell grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a short jumper to make it 9-1 with 6:27 left in the first quarter, she got a steal and layup 44 seconds later to extend the lead to 11-1, and, after Johnson’s second basket in the quarter, Cornwell added a baseline jumper to cap a stretch reminiscent of the Lady Pirates’ 14-0 run to wipe out Kiowa’s seven-point first-half lead Thursday.

“We concentrate on our defense,” Duncan noted after watching his club force 29 turnovers and score 30 of its 67 points after takeaways. “Our defense leads us into our offense.

“It might not be pretty, but we’re not in a beauty contest,” he added. “We just like to play hard-nosed.”

Verdigris rebounded from Preston’s quick start and closed the opening quarter on a 9-0 run that featured baskets from four different players, but the Lady Cardinals had five turnovers and just one basket in the first 6:15 of the second quarter. Preston capitalized with an 8-0 run that started with back-to-back layups by Shakayla Love and ended with a pair of layups by Johnson to take a 26-12 lead with 2:20 left in the half.

Preston went to the locker room on top 28-16 after a layup by Abbott just two seconds before the break, and the Lady Pirates forced six turnovers and allowed just one shot (a 3-pointer by Meg Heskett to make it 30-19) in the first 3:25 of the third quarter. They converted four of those takeaways into layups (three by Cornwell) and led 36-19 when Cornwell got a steal and layup with 4:48 left in the period.

Verdigris star Cassie Clark, who followed her tournament-best 30 points in Thursday’s win over Okarche with 25 points, six rebounds and five assists Friday, converted a conventional 3-point play just 13 seconds later to trim the Preston lead to 36-22, but the Lady Cardinals couldn’t get closer than 11 the rest of the way.

Preston’s advantage ballooned to 50-26 on the strength of a 14-4 run after Clarke’s 3-point play — a spurt capped by back-to-back baskets by Abbott, who finished with a team-high 19 points (on 9-of-17 shooting) and added four rebounds and three of the Lady Pirates’ 21 steals.

Clarke scored the first 10 points in a 16-3 Verdigris burst that trimmed the Preston lead to 53-42 after a 3-pointer by Taylor Brim with 5:15 to play, but Savannah Hamilton hit a pair of layups on a four-point trip down the floor after Brim’s basket to again make it a 15-point game, and Verdigris never got closer.

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