By BOB FORREST
PRESTON — As usual, this year’s Bertha Frank Teague Mid-America Classic will be loaded with offensive talent. But the other seven coaches who will compete for the tournament’s championship trophy at East Central University’s Kerr Activities Center all seemed to be a little bit in awe of the offensive power Preston will bring to Ada this week.
Last year’s Class 2A runner-up, Preston is a consensus No. 1 pick in Class A this season, and the Lady Pirates come into the Mid-America as Oklahoma’s highest-scoring girls team. Unbeaten and untested through seven games, Mickey Duncan’s veteran squad is averaging 93.4 points per game and scored a season-high 115 in a rout of Checotah earlier this season.
“Our goal not to just score a bunch — it’s for everybody to score,” said Duncan, who will send the Lady Pirates (the No. 2 seed) against Class B No. 1 Kiowa (12-0) at 8 p.m. Thursday in the second of two showdowns between unbeaten teams on the Mid-America’s opening-day. “Last year we tried to get all 15 players in the book, and we did that a bunch.
“What we’re finding now is that teams aren’t letting us run as much — they’re pulling the ball out,” he added. “They feel like if they hold us to 70 points they’ve accomplished something.”
Preston returned all five starters this season from a team that lost to Washington in the 2A title game last March, but the Lady Pirates have only two seniors — Savannah Hamilton and Lauren Abbott, who are two of the four six-footers on the roster and who combine for almost 30 points per game.
“We have three six-footers on the floor a lot,” Duncan said. “Savannah (a three-year starter averaging a team-best 18.6 points per game) is six feet tall but she’s our 3-point shooter from the outside. You have to make sure of where she’s at. If you play man, she can go post you up.
“Lauren starts sometimes and sometimes she doesn’t, depending on the match-ups,” Duncan said of Abbott, a 6-1 post player and two-year starter averaging 11.1 points per game. “She always works hard. She knows what’s going on, and she knows what we’re doing in our offense.”
Hamilton is one of three players on his roster Duncan said are Division I college prospects, and the other two are juniors — point guard Maylisa Johnson and shooting guard Sierra Cornwell.
“Sierra shoots the 3, and she’s really quick,” Duncan said of Cornwell, the MVP of the 2006 Class 2A state tournament (won by Preston over Washington) and averaging 14.4 points per game so far this season. “She won the state 200-meter dash (last spring), so she’s really fast, and she’s our defensive stopper.
“(Johnson) isn’t going to lead in scoring, but she’s our most valuable player,” Duncan said of the 5-9 Johnson, who was hurt early in the state championship game last spring and has come back to average almost nine points per game this season. “She runs our break, and she’s one of those triple-double threats every night. She really goes to the boards. She’s big and strong. She benches 175.”
Preston’s other two six-footers are 6-2 sophomore Shakayla Love and her sister, junior Erica. Duncan said they present problems to opponents at both ends of the floor.
“Shakayla is athletic and she can really run,” Duncan said of the younger Love, who is averaging 11.1 points and is “probably” the team’s leading rebounder. “We spread it out so much and we’re so big, we don’t have anybody who can dominate in stats, but we usually have four or five kids in double figures.
“Erica (averaging 12.7 points per game) can shoot the 3, and if you guard her with a guard, she can take it to the post,” Duncan added. “She’s an inside-outside-type player who is a match-up problem.”
With the Lady Pirates running up the score on every opponent so far this season and most of their rivals the past two years as well, Duncan has been able to get his bench a lot of playing time. Although he might have the deepest team in the Mid-America, he said sophomores Taylor Ward and Keyera Henry and junior Candice Reagor have been his leaders off the bench.
“Taylor can really fill it up,” he said of the 5-5 Ward. “She hasn’t played hardly at all so far because of an injury, but she’s hoping to play in the tournament.
“Keyera is a match-up problem because she’s so hard to handle one-on-one,” Duncan said of the 5-4 Henry. “Candice (at 5-5) is really, really quick. If we have trouble guarding somebody with the big girls, she can come in and shut you down.”
In Kiowa, the Lady Pirates will face a team that also hasn’t really been tested so far this season, and Duncan said he’s familiar with the unbeaten Cowgirls.
“I’ve watched them play; in fact, we played each other every season not very long ago,” he said. “They’re really good. They have a good point guard, and they can really shoot the 3, so our big girls are going to have to go guard somebody.
“They’re undefeated and we’re undefeated, so it should be a pretty good first-round match-up.,”
In his eighth year at Preston, Duncan has taken the Lady Pirates to the state tournament three of the past four seasons, and he said the Mid-America will not only give his team a chance to play in a state tournament-type atmosphere but will also give him a chance to see two other highly-ranked teams (No. 2 Howe and No. 4 Okarche) from Class A.
“Our attraction in going (to the Mid-America) is the crowds,” he explained. “We’re excited about the opportunity of playing in front of a lot of fans.
“You have great teams and coaches down there, and we’ll face some teams we haven’t faced before,” he added. “I’m excited to see how our kids handle it. What’s great is that it should almost be like the Class A state tournament because Howe and Okarche are there. Class A is loaded this year. A lot of the good 2A teams are close to Preston, but all of the good Class A teams are out west, so I’m looking forward to seeing them play.”
As good as the Lady Pirates have been so far this season, Duncan said his club still has a big upside, adding that their loss to Washington last March has given them some added incentive.
“We’re still getting a lot better — I don’t think we’ve played near as well as we can play yet,” he said. “We’re still growing and we’re still hungry. Our loss to Washington really motivated our 3-point shooters (who had an off night in the state title game), and they really went to work this summer.
“Our chemistry is really good right now, but we have to continue to improve,” Duncan added. “You can’t have an off night down there (at the Mid-America). You have to play well every night.”
By BOB FORREST