By Andrew Glover
BETHANY, Okla. —
Before Friday’s state semifinal basketball game, coach Brad Crace admitted his Lady Tigers were the underdog against the second-ranked Fort Gibson Lady Tigers.
“No one is really talking about us,” Crace said. “Everyone is talking about Fort Gibson and Anadarko and we are OK with that.”
Unfortunately, Cushing’s dance in the Class 4A state tournament ended in the state semifinals at Southern Nazarene University’s Sawyer Center in a 52-35 loss to Fort Gibson.
“We played hard and just didn’t have it,” Crace said. “Kudos to them, they took Che’Ron (Lewis) out of the game and that’s what they needed to do to win.”
Cushing’s offense struggled as it didn’t score until senior Mattea Jackson hit a 3-pointer with more than three minutes left in the first. That shot sparked a rally as senior Shaunda Hagler hit a 3 and Jackson struck again, tying the game at 9. Fort Gibson led 12-9 after the first.
“I thought our guards did outstanding,” Crace said. “Made some 3s and kept us in it.”
The Lady Tigers’ scoring woes would haunt them as Fort Gibson went on a 10-0 run in the second quarter. Cushing’s only field goal was by Mariah Burris. Fort Gibson led 24-11 at halftime. Cushing couldn’t stop Fort Gibson’s post Brooke Palmer, who scored 14 points in the first half.
Lewis, who usually leads the team in scoring, didn’t score until she hit two free throws in the fourth quarter.
In the third quarter, the Lady Tigers rallied to cut the deficit to six but weren’t able to complete the comeback. Fort Gibson opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer by Savannah Gray and never led by fewer than seven.
Jackson led Cushing in scoring with 14 points. Hagler followed with nine. Fort Gibson’s Palmer led all scorers with 24. Allie Glover followed with nine.
The Lady Tigers (25-2) graduate seven players, including Lewis. Crace said his seniors single-handedly revived the program.
“When I got here this program was on life support,” Crace said. “Those seven years have made this program something again.”
Crace said despite losing most of the team he has some good players returning.
“We have solid pieces but there is no substitute for experience,” Crace said. “It’s a process. I think in another couple of years we can make a run at it again.”