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Norman girls continue their late-season roll by reaching the 6A championship game

Undefeated Edmond North survives serious scare from Putnam City West; Lady Huskies go for repeat

By Buck Ringgold | Photos by Christian Potts

NORMAN - In Norman’s season opener, the Lady Tigers lost to Edmond Memorial.

Friday, the two teams had a rematch. This time, Norman got revenge, and in the process, ensured itself of playing for a state championship in its season finale.

Four Lady Tigers reached double figures, as Norman also displayed solid defense and rebounding to defeat the Lady Bulldogs, 68-47, in the 6A girls state semifinals at the Lloyd Noble Center.

“I’ve told you guys since day one, we hang our hats on the defensive side of things,” Norman coach Frankie Parks said. “When we’re all tuned in and playing defense and all on the same page, head on a swivel, making the correct rotations, it’s hard to score against us and I thought that happened (Friday), specifically in the first half.”

In that half, the Lady Tigers (22-4) held Memorial - which beat Norman, 65-58, on Nov. 29 - to 20 percent shooting, including a 1-of-12 performance in the opening quarter.

Also utilizing the size of players such as 6-footer Kayla Jones, 6-1 Jordyn Rollins and 6-2 Nessa Begay - all seniors - Norman out-rebounded the Lady Bulldogs, 41-31, with Jones and Rollins grabbing 11 and 10 boards, respectively.

“Our bigs have been special for us this year,” Parks said. “We’ve got three kids there that go to work in the paint, do all the dirty work and they’ve done it all year and it showed itself once again in this particular game.”

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All of Rollins’ 10 boards came on the defensive end.

“I think this was one of my best rebounding games, this season, and my shooting was pretty good,” Rollins said. “I was looking for mismatches and noticing where our strengths were down in the paint. I was just doing what I can, playing my role for our team and playing to the best of our abilities.”

Rollins gave Norman its first double-digit advantage when she stole a pass with time running out in the first half and was fouled after attempting a shot from nearly 30 feet out. She went to the free-throw line and made all three attempts, as the Lady Tigers took a 33-22 lead into the locker room at the break.

Norman continued its sizable margin to start the second half, as Begay went inside for a pair of baskets while Rollins hit a 3-pointer, making it 40-27, Lady Tigers.

Another 3 from Rollins started a 14-2 fourth-quarter run after Memorial (22-5) got to within eight, 48-39. Begay added four points in that stretch, as well as 5-11 sophomore Keeley Parks, who led all scorers with 19 points.

Jones ended that run with a foul shot that put Norman up by 21, 62-41, with 2:54 remaining. The Lady Tigers then went on to record their 12th consecutive win.

“I think we played really well; we really came together when we needed it towards the end of the season and we’ve just been unstoppable from there from that point on,” Begay said. “We know we have size, so we’re trying to use that to our advantage and just getting the bigs inside and feeding them the ball, and if we miss (shots), getting the rebound and finishing.

“Then defensively, we try to talk as much as we can switching, and even when the girls are faster than us, we’re helping, the back side’s helping and all that.”

Frankie Parks noted another reason that the Lady Tigers - who returned just one starter entering the season - are peaking at the right time.

“We’ve been healthy,” he said. “That changed for us that first or second week of February; it was the first time we had all five starters to play for us since the beginning of the year, probably the third game. But from that point on, those girls have been thriving.

“With that being said, I do think it was a blessing in disguise that some of our guards were out early in the year, because it allowed me to learn how to coach our bigs and put them in positions to be successful. Then with all that in place and bringing our talented guards back, that just allowed us to be that much better as a team.”

Jones and Rollins each finished with 14 points for the Lady Tigers, whose last loss came to Edmond North, 59-35, on Jan. 17.

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Now, much like the Lady Tigers got payback on Edmond Memorial, they have a chance to do the same against Edmond North. Only Norman stands between the Lady Huskies and the opportunity to finish with a perfect season.

Norman takes on Edmond North at 2 p.m. Saturday, back at the Lloyd Noble Center for the 6A championship. The Lady Huskies won 6A last season, while the Lady Tigers won it the season before.

“We have 12 seniors, and we have that one mission, which is to get that state championship,” Begay said. “And we know we’re going to have to play for each other. … Playing together and just getting the job done.”

Addy Johnson had 13 points and two 3’s for Edmond Memorial, while Janiyah Williams added 12 points to go along with nine boards.

Edmond North 45, Putnam City West 42

For essentially the first time all season, the Lady Huskies were pushed to the brink.

But someway, somehow, they managed to fend off the upset-minded Lady Patriots and now stand one win away from a perfect season and back-to-back 6A championships.

Edmond North (28-0), which had been struggling all day from the free-throw line, got some foul shots to drop when the Lady Huskies absolutely needed them to.

Senior Elle Papahronis broke a 42-all tie with two free throws with 22.5 seconds left. Prior to that, Edmond North was 13-of-23 from the foul line.

PC West drew a foul seconds later, but missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Edmond North senior Laci Steele grabbed the rebound while being fouled.

Steele went to the line in the double-bonus with 13.7 seconds left. She missed the first but made the second; however, PC West still had one more chance trailing by three.

The Lady Huskies’ defense kept the Lady Patriots from getting the ball to someone to shoot from the outside as time ran out, and Edmond North players were able to finally breathe a sigh of relief.

Not to mention their coach, Pete Papahronis.

“It doesn’t matter who the best team is, it’s the state tournament and anybody can beat anybody,” he said. “PC West is not here because someone did them a favor; they’ve earned it and they’re a good basketball team and that’s why they’re here.

“Every time we came at them, they punched back and when they got up, we punched back. It was heavyweight ball back and forth. … To be honest with you, even though you don’t want that type of game, if you’re able to sneak it out, I think it’s good for us; we really learned a lot (Friday) and it showed when adversity did it, I think our girls came through and they came through strong.”

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It was just the second game all season North has won by single digits.

Edmond North had trailed by two, 40-38, with 1:43 remaining. But the Lady Huskies scored four straight points, the latter on a basket from KK Peeler set up by a steal, to go in front, 42-40, with 48 seconds showing on the clock.

The Lady Patriots answered on the other end 10 seconds later when Kiana Gray - who played a big role coming off the bench in the team’s upset bid - hit two free throws to tie it at 42-all.

But Edmond North’s clutch foul shots allowed the Lady Huskies to keep their season going.

The Lady Huskies and Lady Patriots battled to a 20-all score at halftime, and it continued to be a back-and-forth affair in the second half, with neither team leading by more than three points.

The score remained tied at 29-all after three quarters and there were six ties in the fourth quarter, the latter on Gray’s two foul shots to make it 42-all.

Steele led all scorers with 16 points while Elle Papahronis added 14 points. Both grabbed nine rebounds apiece as well. North also got a big game from junior Kate Melton, who had eight points on 3-of-5 shooting.

“It was a close one all game, and we knew we had to make a few stops in the end because I think a lot of things that could have went wrong, went wrong,” Melton said. “We weren’t getting shots, our defense wasn’t amazing, we weren’t getting the stops we wanted, so I think it was just at the end of the game, just making the stops that we can and finishing those free throws at the end.”

PC West had three players in double figures. Senior post Jazmin Adams was the top scorer with 12 points while going 4-of-6 from the field and 4-of-4 from the line and grabbing eight rebounds.

Caya Smith added 11 points, going 5-of-7 from the field, and Gray had 10 points, including making two 3’s.