By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
A week ago, the Stillwater High School boys basketball team returned from Lawton licking its wounds after a pair of heartbreaking losses.
Now those losses have become a source of inspiration for the Pioneers as they prepare to open regional play against Tulsa’s Nathan Hale at 8 p.m. Friday in the Pioneer Fieldhouse.
“We have just practiced hard all week and practiced like we want to play,” Stillwater coach Michael Davis said. “We weren’t blown out. Those were two pretty good teams. We would like to have got a couple wins, but those two games were pretty good tests for us.”
The Pioneers (16-6) may have taken their lumps in Lawton, but it also has lit a fire under Stillwater’s players — knowing that another loss to Hale means the season is over.
“They know what’s out in front of them,” Davis said. “You have to win in order to play next weekend. You have to win and keep playing. That’s why we went through all those 22 games we played, so we would be ready for this one.
“I think those losses help us a lot because it showed that we are beatable. We can’t just walk in and think we’re going to own the place. Those losses helped bring us back down and kind of gave us something to work for this week in practice because they stuck with us.”
In fact, Davis has refused to let his team focus on anything but Hale — not last weekend’s losses, not the thought of playing for a regional championship at home, nothing.
“We’ve got to win this first game to get any more games,” Davis said. “We have been extremely focused on the business at hand this week, which is Tulsa Hale. We can’t look past them because that’s how we’re going to get upset. It’s like I’ve said all season long, we just have to take it one game at a time.”
For a team that likes to run as much as the Pioneers do, taking things slow can be a challenge. That’s where Stillwater’s senior leadership will shine Friday.
“It helps quite a bit that we have seniors like Caleb (Watkins), who have been a part of this team since they were freshmen and sophomores,” Davis said. “They know what to expect, so this is nothing new to them. As coaches, we share some things but they know what we got to do.”
One of those things Davis has been sharing with the Pioneers this week? Battle for rebounds and limit the plays Hale makes in the open floor.
“They are pretty tough to stop, they’re athletic and they play,” Davis said. “But they’re no different than anybody else we play. They have athletes, but we’ve faced them all year. We just have to go take care of our business and play our game.”
The lights may seem brighter and the stage may be bigger for the Pioneers as they play in front of the hometown crowd, but after what happened last weekend in Lawton, Davis said he feels confident in his team.
“It’s huge,” Davis said of playing at home. “It’s exciting that we get to play at home. We haven’t lost at home yet this season, so we’re hoping to keep that trend going. ... We’re not worried about the nerves getting to us because we’re used to it. We would love to have a packed house because it just adds to our energy. Having a big crowd just helps us more and makes it that much more difficult for (Hale).”
Along with the game between Stillwater and Hale, regional action will tipoff at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the Pioneer Fieldhouse when Muskogee battles Tulsa Union in the other first round game.