Joe Claxton Guest Writer
For the second straight time this postseason, the paths of Class 4A's top-ranked Victory Christian Conquerors and the Ada Cougars crossed — exactly one week after they met in the Class 4A Regional Tournament finals in Checotah.
Unfortunately for the the Cougars, the same result happened the second time around.
Saturday night in the Class 4A Area Tournament consolation finals at the Wilburton High School gym, the Cougars saw their season end with a heartbreaking 40-38 loss to the Conquerors. It marked the second straight season the Cougars missed state by one win.
“It's been a great season,” Ada boys coach Ron Anderson said. “I was proud of everybody. We lose two seniors — actually three, but one (Garrett Bacon) was on the bench with a broken wrist. We'll have a good nucleus coming back, and of course (Cory) Kilby's coming back. We'll just have to live with this for another year.”
Saturday night's area finals were much like a carbon copy of the week before. Trailing at halftime, the Conquerors used a strong third period to take the lead.
Thanks to a basket by Walker Whitworth with four seconds left before halftime, the Cougars (16-12) took a 28-27 lead into the locker room at the break.
To begin the third quarter, the Conquerors scored the period's first six points, capped by a 3-point basket by Chris Crawford at the 3:56 mark that put Victory Christian (23-3) ahead 33-28.
Kilby's basket at the 1:13 mark cut Ada's deficit to 33-30 going into the final period.
“It's ironic because that's exactly what happened last time,” Anderson said. “We gave them a big third quarter. Twice on us, they've had a good third quarter. We mentioned that even before we went on the floor (to begin the second half), don't do what we did last time. Unfortunately, they got a little lead on us.”
However, unlike what happened a week before in Checotah, when the Conquerors prevailed 44-25, it was a nail-biter right down to the very last seconds.
The final period had four lead changes, with the last lead for Ada coming at 37-36 after a basket by Tryce Prince with 5:15 left to play. However, the Cougars scored only one free throw over the remaining game time.
Blake Thomas gave Victory Christian the lead for good at 38-37 with 4:33 left. Just 34 seconds later, Crawford's free throw upped the advantage to 39-37.
Kilby's free throw with 1:36 left to play cut the deficit to 39-38, and the Cougars had a last shot at winning.
With about five seconds left, Jamal Henderson, who hit a 3-pointer earlier in the period, had his wide-open trey attempt hit the rim, bounce straight up in the air and come down in the arms of Victory Christian's Jon Michael Terry with less than two seconds left.
“That's what I told them,” Anderson said. “We looked a little in disarray there in the end, and maybe I should have called a timeout to try to do something. But you couldn't ask for a better shot, and he's been making some of those — and made one (Saturday) night. I told them if you can be at the end of the game with a chance to win, that's all you can ask for.”
Terry made the first charity toss but missed the second with 1.1 seconds left. Ada called a timeout, but the Cougars' prayer was not answered, and their season ended.
Ada fell behind early 7-1 on a 3-point basket by Victory Christian's Jacoby Hicks with 5:40 left in the opening quarter.
However, the Cougars got the game tied twice, then ended the period with a 4-0 run capped by Henderson's free throws with nine seconds left to give Ada an 18-15 lead going into the second quarter.
A 3-pointer by Whitworth with 5:14 left before halftime upped Ada's advantage to 21-16, but the Conquerors took a 27-26 lead on Hicks' trey with 49 seconds left.
However, Whitworth's basket 45 seconds later put Ada up 28-27 at the break.
“I don't think they get the credit they deserve, considering the last time we played them,” Anderson said. “They didn't score a lot of points in the regular season. We worked an hour (Saturday) morning on some things, and an hour isn't a lot of time to get prepared to play the No. 1 team in the state.”
Ada even tried junk defenses.
“We went into the triangle-and-2, based upon what we saw (Friday) night (in Victory Christian's area finals loss to Fort Gibson). We thought it was the right thing to do. We even tried some inverted triangle-and-2s. We even ran some things on offense that we saw (Fort Gibson do) ... but they played their hearts out.”