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Tahlequah boys continue improbable postseason journey by clinching trip to 5A state tournament

Tigers upend Tulsa Hale, 56-48; Tulsa Edison uses pressure defense to qualify for state

By Christian Potts 

CATOOSA - It started with a half-court prayer answered. 

It's continued with avenged defeats and big-time momentum for a team that started the postseason as a number 11 seed out of 16 in its half of the bracket.

And next on the road for Tahlequah's Tigers is a trip across the state to the Class 5A state tournament. Tahlequah kept the dance going with a near wire-to-wire triumph against No. 4 eastern seed Tulsa Hale, 56-48, in the area consolation final on Saturday night.

After a regular season that finished with a record barely over .500, the Tigers are one of the last eight teams standing and heading to the 5A state tournament next week at the Lloyd Noble Center at the University of Oklahoma.

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"Guys just kept making plays all night, and I'm excited for them," Tahlequah coach Quinn Wooldridge said seconds before bursting through the locker room door into a raucous celebration with his team.

The Tigers took it to Hale in a hurry. After star guard Jacarri Barnes got the game's first five points for the Rangers, Tahlequah outscored Hale, 25-12, the rest of the half while holding Hale to just four more made baskets.

The Tigers kept adding to their lead, from five after one quarter to eight at the half to a 34-23 lead late in the third quarter.

But Hale made a run, spurred by seven straight points by the smooth-shooting lefty Barnes to get within four.

But the Tigers again had the answer, finding their big man, Hayden Smith, for a bucket and a foul. The converted free throw made it 37-30.

Hale battled from there but never got closer than five points again, and the Tigers converted on 6-of-8 foul shots down the stretch and 11-for-15 from the line in the second half.

"We dedicate about as much time consistently every day as anybody in the state on working on them," Wooldridge said of his team's free-throw shooting. "We made enough of them; we didn't make them all but we made enough."

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Smith was the focal point on the night, and he was up to the challenge. The 6-foot-7 junior post finished with a team-high 18 points and was a force in the lane on both ends of the floor.

"It was about pacing, don't let them speed us up," Smith said. "Do what we do. We just had to be killers, go out there and know what we can do, go out there and play basketball like we know how we can."

He got plenty of support.

Cash McAlvain had 15 points, including 5-of-6 late foul shots. Donovan Smith added 10 points and Brycen Smith had seven and played tenacious defense for the Tigers against the athletic Rangers.

"Going to just compete, that's what it's all about," Brycen Smith said. "We all just came out and fought.

"And getting here, this feels even better than I thought it would. It's all worth it."

Tahlequah's regular season prior to this playoff run was the stuff of, well, an 11 seed. The Tigers were 11-10, including a 26-point loss to Glenpool just before the seedings were set. Glenpool wound up at No. 10.

The Tigers scored one of the most dramatic wins of any first-round game in the state, when Brycen Smith hit a shot from just inside halfcourt at the final buzzer to topple No. 6 seed Collinsville, 52-49. That broke a season tie with Collinsville, which had beaten the Tigers Jan. 17.

The Tigers fell in the regional final, 47-43, to Tulsa Holland Hall, but Tahlequah then got another shot at Glenpool in the play-in round Friday and rolled, 85-39, setting up their big opportunity Saturday.

They didn't disappoint.

And even if their playoff seed might have said the Tigers were underdogs, there was a spirit and belief in their locker room that for the last two weeks has said something else. And it has helped lead to three wins against teams seeded higher,

"I think we knew we could do it," Hayden Smith said. "We are just excited, we all just had the energy coming into it; we all believed we could do it."

It's a bitter ending for the Rangers, who had a 20-6 campaign that had galvanized their neighborhood in central Tulsa and brought out great amounts of support for the program. Barnes finished with a game-high 23, with Damario Adams and Davontay Greggs adding six apiece.

Tulsa Edison 55, Grove 35

Tulsa Edison coach Michael Parish urged his team's bench and all of the green-clad Eagle fans across the court to stand and cheer as his team's defense had forced yet another turnover with its tough pressure.

It was 2:40 from the finish and pretty clear the Eagles would be headed back to the Class 5A state tournament. The No. 2 seeded Eagles flexed their defensive muscle all night in a suffocating performance that eliminated the Ridgerunners.

Edison held Grove to just five field goals in the first half in taking a 26-14 halftime advantage. Grove made a push with the first two baskets of the second half, but Edison's Luke Parish went on a personal 8-2 run that included a pair of 3-baskets to push the lead back out to 34-20.

From there, Edison worked to pound the ball inside, doing so primarily with the play of Jay Overton-Tobie, who scored a game-best 20 points to lead the Eagles. Jermiah Johnson scored 14 points and Parish tallied all 13 of his after halftime.

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The Eagles had dropped a heartbreaker the night before, 57-54, to Tulsa Holland Hall. That forced them to turn around just 24 hours later and face a Grove team coming in with momentum off a solid win against Tulsa Bishop Kelley.

But the Eagles were relentless defensively, holding Grove to single digits in three of four quarters and making every shot tough to come by.

The win gives the Eagles a return to the state tournament after an exit at this round of last year's bracket.

Valiant in defeat for Grove was senior Hagen Hacker, who received a well-earned ovation after exiting late with a team-high 12 points. The Ridgerunners, who were the No. 9 seed in the East region, finished their season at 14-11.