CNHI News Service
Riding a 13-game winning streak, the Deer Creek girls knew one more victory would put them on the verge of winning a state title.
With only Tulsa East Central standing in their way, the Lady Antlers pulled out a 48-43 victory Friday morning in the Class 5A state semifinals at the Mabee Center.
“I think we played pretty good,” Deer Creek coach Totsy Manning said. “We are playing for a state championship. Enough said.”
But it didn’t come easy for the Lady Antlers (26-2). After playing much of the first half without their senior leader Ashley Gibson, they had a 45-38 lead with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter.
Central’s Lauren Billie drained a 3-pointer to close the gap to four points. The Cardinals then forced a turnover and Ariel Williams was fouled attempting a jump shot. She hit both free throws.
Deer Creek’s Whitney Jones was fouled and sent to the free throw line. The junior calmly stepped up and netted both attempts to put the Lady Antlers back up by four with 16.7 seconds on the clock.
Central tried to get a 3-point shot off, but Deer Creek’s defense stifled all good attempts. Bayli Blanchard hit two more free throws to put the game away.
“We told our girls it was going to come down to free throws,” Manning said. “We are generally a great free throw shooting team. So we felt confident with that, to get the ball out and let them come foul us.”
Darreion Clark paced the Cardinals with 16 points while Williams added 13.
Dakota Vann had a game-high 17 points to go along with seven rebounds, three assists and three blocks. Bayli Blanchard chipped in with 15 points and nine rebounds. Gibson finished with 11 points.
As a team, the Lady Antlers committed 18 turnovers, but outrebounded the Cardinals 32-19.
Deer Creek had no answer for Clark early in the game. The 5-6 guard was able to get her shot off at will as she gave the Cardinals a 12-11 first-quarter lead.
Deer Creek came back in the second behind Blanchard and Vann. They went into halftime tied at 22-22.
Vann kept firing from behind the 3-point line in the second half. With six minutes left in the fourth, the 5-10 sophomore tied the game at 35-35. Blanchard and Gibson scored the next four points to give the Antlers a 39-35 advantage with three minutes left.
Williams dropped a pair of free throws to cut Deer Creek’s lead in half. But once again Blanchard and Gibson had responses waiting and put the Lady Antlers up by six, and they never lost the lead again.
Deer Creek will play at 6 p.m. Saturday for the 5A state championship. A win will give them 15 straight to end the season. But more important, they would take a gold ball back home.
“I want to see the same thing I have seen for the last 14 games,” Manning said. “I want to see that hustle, that intensity. I want to see them play with that basketball IQ. I want them to have fun and play relaxed.”