Jeff Cali Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
The Byng basketball program had been window shopping for a new tournament over the past several years, and those involved in the search finally decided it would be best just to stay home.
Thus, the birth of the 1st Annual Byng Pirate Invitational, sponsored by Patriot Ford, which tips off Thursday morning inside the Bill Koller Fieldhouse.
After many discussions among Byng girls coach Matt Fike, boys coach Trent Miller, athletic director Bruce Plunk and members of the Byng Tip-In Club, the group decided to abandon the idea of joining a new tournament and decided to host one instead.
“We were looking to do something different for a tournament and looking around for other options, and we just sort of kept coming back to the idea of why don’t we just host one,” Fike said. “That conversation probably started as long as three years ago, and it just grew from there until it came a reality.”
Fike said it will be nice to play at home for three straight days instead of making three consecutive road trips.
“It’s great to have a tournament at our place, and hopefully it will be a great thing for our school and our community to come out and be a part of,” he said. “Really, what’s made it all come together is several people deciding they want to be a part of it, and Patriot Ford helping out being a corporate sponsor for it. That’s really what sort of made it happen. When push came to shove, when we got Patriot Ford on board we knew we had something we could go with.”
A girls game featuring Madill and Prague will start things off at 10 a.m. Thursday, followed by a Little Axe-Hugo boys game at 11:30 a.m. First-round games will continue throughout the day, concluding with the Byng girls meeting Dickson at 7 p.m. and the Byng boys squaring off with the Okemah JV at 8:30 p.m.
Fike said his Lady Pirates should get tested with a solid girls field that includes Okemah, Purcell, Little Axe and No. 1 seed Hugo.
“I think it’s a pretty good field from top to bottom,” he said.
Hugo entered the break at 5-2 and is ranked No. 4 in Class 3A.
“Hugo had a really good season last year, and they have a lot of players back,” Fike said.
Okemah (5-1) is ranked No. 16 in 3A.
“Okemah’s girls are a team in 3A that’s been on the rise for the last couple of years, and they’ve had a lot of early-season success,” he said.
Dickson (3-3), Byng’s first-round foe, features one of the best players in the field in senior Katy Custer, who recently signed with Oklahoma Baptist University.
“Dickson is a team that has one really good player that’s already committed to OBU. They’re obviously going to showcase her,” Fike said. “She’s a 6-1, legitimate college basketball player.”
Madill (1-3) has lost a pair of tight ball games early on and is led by veteran head coach Hugh Don Sweat. Prague is 3-3, while 4A Purcell is 2-2 and has another veteran coach in Mike Savage.
“Madill is always a scrappy, well-coached team. Prague is a team that has a lot of tradition that is well-coached and has been to the state tournament a couple of times,” Fike said. “There’s some pretty good teams, and I think we’re one of them.”
Byng (26-4 a year ago after an incredible run to the state tournament) entered a Saturday makeup contest at Bethel with a 3-2 mark with a 45-37 loss to Harrah (No. 6 in Class 4A) and a 42-25 setback to Carl Albert (No. 3 in Class 5A).
“Our two losses were to two really good teams. We battled Harrah right down to the wire, and it was honestly a game we could have won and we just didn’t,” Fike said.
“We got it put on us pretty big by Carl Albert. They’re really good and really athletic,” he continued. “I was pretty frustrated after the game, but when I went back and watched it on film, I had to give Carl Albert a lot more credit than I initially did. We made a lot of mistakes, and Carl Albert forced a bunch of them.”
The Lady Pirates own victories over McLoud, Northeast Academy and Madill.
“Our wins have been wins we’ve felt good about from the standpoint of we had to really battle and make plays late in the game,” he said. “We’re at a good spot. We feel pretty good about where we are coming off the break.”
The bad news for Fike is that his team is already kind of banged up with just five games under its belt. Senior ball handler McKenzie Hudson is out indefinitely with a broken arm. Standout senior post player Alexis Hill is playing through some nagging injuries, and sophomore Kendall Fike is returning from holiday surgery.
After Saturday’s trip to Bethel, Byng will face area rival Konawa in another road game on Tuesday before diving into tournament play. Winning the first-ever Byng Pirate Invitational would certainly be a nice feather in the Lady Pirates’ cap.
“It would be a nice way to kick off this new annual tournament, but we have to worry about Dickson on Thursday before we worry about what’s going to happen Saturday,” Fike said.