By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Before the season began, the Stillwater High School boys basketball team wrote down a list of goals — one of them was to go undefeated at home.
Now the Pioneers (15-4) are one win away from achieving that goal and just one team stands in their way — hated rival Ponca City.
“It would mean a lot to us,” Stillwater coach Michael Davis said. “That was one of our goals, to go undefeated at home. We put it up on the board at the beginning of the summer and we’ve been working toward that goal ever since. Our team wants it and particularly our seniors want it.”
Stillwater added fuel to the rivalry’s flames with a 65-60 overtime win in Ponca City earlier this season. Now, the Wildcats would like nothing more than to spoil the perfect home season during the Pioneers’ Senior Night Friday at the Pioneer Fieldhouse.
“It’s always a real intense battle,” Davis said. “They know us and we’re used to playing against one another. We feel like every time we play Ponca City, we know we’re going to get Ponca City’s best effort. That’s what a rivalry is supposed to be.”
Like the Pioneers, the Stillwater girls basketball team will also be looking to accomplish its goals Friday when they tip off against Ponca City at 6:30 p.m. And while the Lady Pioneers (11-8) aren’t able to have a perfect home season, a win might help them as they close out the season.
“We’re hoping to pick up win No. 12,” Stillwater coach Carl Treat said. “That’s our goal right now. It would be great to come out with a victory and have something to build upon for the playoffs.”
Seemingly, both teams are heading in opposite directions. The Pioneers are flying high after upsetting Class 5A No. 1 Bishop McGuinness, while the Lady Pioneers are trying to piece things together after shooting 19 percent from the field a week ago.
But as they say, looks can be deceiving.
“When you shoot 19 percent there’s a variety of things that come into play,” Treat said. “Did we take bad shots? Did we lose focus? Were we tired? We looked at all those different things, and we’ve had a good week of practice. We’ve been shooting the ball well in practice, so hopefully that will carry over.”
Davis, on the other hand, refuses to let his team fall into the trap of the rollercoaster of momentum that can come after a big win.
“We hit it hard this week in practice,” Davis said. “After a win like that, the guys couldn’t wait to get back in the gym. They celebrated that night and Saturday, but by Sunday our focus was on Ponca City.”
A major point of that focus for Davis — stopping Ponca City’s 5-foot-6-inch guard Cole Hibler. That task falls on senior Caleb Watkins’ shoulders — a scrappy senior hoping to make one last memory for the Stillwater faithful.
“In four years (Hibler) hasn’t done a lot against us,” Davis said. “The trick is to not let him get going. We’re going to put Caleb Watkins on him and just let him guard like he’s always done for us. He always wants to guard the other team’s best player and he usually does a pretty good job of shutting them down.”
With all the hoopla that surrounds Senior Night, no doubt emotions will be high — especially in a rivalry game like this one. But it’s how Stillwater handles the emotions that will tell whether or not it will lead to success.
“It’s a sad time for everybody, but kids are supposed to move on and graduate,” Treat said. “It would be great to come out with a victory and send our seniors off with a win for their last home game.”
Added Davis: “It’s going to be pretty emotional for me, personally. Caleb Watkins has been on this team all four years and it seems like I’ve been watching him since he was a little kid. Rico (Thompson) is one heck of a talent and probably one of the best basketball players in the state.
“And Braydn (Murrell), he tore up his knee, but he’s a lot like his older brother. He gives you 110 percent all the time. It is senior night and a special night for them, but to us this is just another game. We’ll celebrate with those guys after the game.”