In more ways than one, Thursday night’s showdown between Class B powers Red Oak and Roff was more like a championship fight than a high school basketball game.

The unbeaten and top-ranked Eagles and the eighth-ranked Tigers had combined to win 17 straight — most by huge margins — coming into the game, and, with only a few other games scheduled in the state and most colleges having let out for the holidays, the “celebrities” were out in force.

Roff’s gym — newly remodeled but still cozy — was, as usual, standing room only, and the crowd included players and coaches who weren’t only part of recent Tiger successes but who represented other schools as well.

Dearth Parker, Carter Browning, C. J. Stewart and Glenn Cornell — all members of Roff’s last state champion in any sport (the 2006 spring baseball squad) — were there (Parker and Stewart also played on Roff basketball teams that went to the Class A title game in 2004 and 2006), along with former Tiger basketball coach Larry Johnston, who took the 2004 Roff squad to the Class A championship game and is now the boys coach at Washington High School.

Chasen Bennett and Tyler Gillum, both key contributors to Latta’s last baseball championship (in 2005) and currently members of Mike Hurt’s third ECU squad, were there, as were former Ada High football standout Ty Gower, ex-Tupelo All-State baseball player Randy McCurry (whose younger brother, Brendan, now plays for Roff) and former Sulphur standout Mat Wolf.

Roff athletic director and assistant girls coach Mike Stewart joked earlier in the evening that, although he was expecting a full house, the doubleheader might not be the financial windfall everybody thought it would be, largely because a high percentage of the crowd would be coaches who got in on their OSSAA passes. And he was right.

Byng boys coach Trent Miller (Roff coach Kale Simon’s brother-in-law) was on hand, along with Stonewall girls coach Christie Jennings (and a number of her players) and, although they kept a lower profile, coaches and/or scouts from schools who figure to face either Red Oak or Roff down the road were also sprinkled through the crowd. Another familiar face belonged to legendary former ECU men’s basketball coach Wayne Cobb, who had a front-row seat for the pre-holiday classic.

Although Roff and Red Oak are more than 100 miles apart, the rivalry between their boys baseball and basketball teams has evolved over the past couple of years into one of the most intense in the state. The players know each other (in fact, when Roff point guard Aaron Cornell left the game early in the third quarter after picking up his third foul, he told his replacement, T. J. Carter, which Red Oak player he had been guarding — not by number, but by name) and don’t seem to like each other very much, and the fans seem to share the feeling.

Roff eliminated Red Oak in the semifinals of the 2007 Class B spring baseball tournament, then the Eagles returned the favor last fall and again this spring, upsetting the Tigers in the championship game each time. Thursday was the first time the two teams — whose rosters have remained largely intact since their first state tournament confrontation almost two years ago — have met in a basketball game of any real significance, but judging by the intensity of the contest, a rematch in Oklahoma City in March is a distinct possibility.

Several of Oklahoma’s top small-school offensive players were on the floor Thursday night, but defense dominated the contest from start to finish. It was punch-counterpunch for 32 minutes, and, although the Tigers were without one of their big sluggers — junior center Josh Jones, who separated his right shoulder in a victory over Stratford two days earlier — and had a couple of other starters in early foul trouble, they managed to trade the Eagles blow-for-blow for most of the game.

Unfortunately, the turning point wasn’t the result of some superhuman defensive play or highlight-reel basket. Instead, the game turned on an official’s call that was, at best, questionable and, at worst, missed altogether.

With Roff down just 29-27 early in the fourth quarter, Tiger junior guard Dayne Parker — who, along with backcourt mate Aaron Cornell, did an outstanding job defensively on Red Oak standout Lane Adams — was chasing Adams along the baseline under the Red Oak basket when he was whistled for an intentional foul for allegedly throwing an elbow. From the scorer’s table, it appeared Parker was bumped by another player and knocked off stride, causing his elbow to fly up, but there didn’t appear to be anything intentional about the play at all.

Roff coach Kale Simon — who, along with Red Oak coach Trey Booth and the fans from both sides, expressed displeasure with the way the game was officiated pretty much from start to finish — called the intentional foul “at that point in the game, as lousy as it gets”, and, whether it was correct or not, the call changed the momentum in favor of the Eagles for good.

Adams hit both free throws, then Jordan Booth added a layup off the ensuing inbounds pass to make it a six-point game, and Roff never got within one possession the rest of the way.

Despite the loss, Simon could take a lot of positives out of Thursday’s game.

The Tigers played the kind of defense that has been the trademark of Roff teams over the past several years, with Parker and Cornell combining to hold Adams — coming off a 61-point explosion in Red Oak’s previous outing — without a field goal over the final three periods. The Eagle star finished with 20 points, but 15 came from the free throw line, including 12 straight in the second half.

Red Oak managed to score less than half of its season average of 89 points through 10 games coming into Thursday’s contest, and the Eagles took a meager 29 shots, hitting just 11.

Roff, meanwhile, played the No. 1 team in Class B to a virtual stalemate with Jones — who averaged 16 points per game as a sophomore last season — on the bench with his right arm in a sling and two other starters — Parker and Blake Logan — virtual non-factors on the offensive end of the floor, where they combined to hit just 1-of-13 shots. Neither figures to have a night like that very often, and both contributed in other ways, with Parker grabbing four rebounds and dealing out three assists and Logan pulling down five rebounds to share team honors with Sulphur import Dylan Lemley.

A 6-4 junior who was the only Roff starter over six feet tall to face a Red Oak lineup that not only featured the 6-4 Adams but also included the 6-4 Booth, 6-4 Dwight Camp and 6-8 Stuart Sullivan, Lemley continued to prove he is one of the state’s best small-school players. He finished with 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting and, despite their size disadvantage, the Tigers were dead even (24-24) in rebounds with the Eagles.

Roff bounced back from Thursday’s loss to drill Calvin Friday night, and the Tigers head into the holiday break having won 10 of 13 games, including eight of nine since being blown out by Class B No. 2 Stringtown in the fourth game of the season.

After the Stringtown loss, Simon said his team simply wasn’t ready to play the defending Class B state champions. After Thursday’s effort, though, the young Roff coach has to figure his Tigers are ready to take on all comers.

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