CNHI News Service
Chasing the third title in school history, Deer Creek coach Totsy Manning kept telling her team it was going to come down to hitting free throws. Yet when the Lady Antlers held a 14-point lead against Shawnee in the championship game Saturday, it seemed she may have just been overcautious.
However, after the Lady Wolves stormed back late in the game, Manning’s words rung true as Deer Creek defeated Shawnee 59-44 to win the girls 5A state championship at the Mabee Center.
“It was a huge win,” Deer Creek’s Ashley Gibson said. “A successful win that we have been working from day one to get. Staying together as a family was the main key.”
The Lady Antlers came close to seeing their dreams disappear late in the game. Shawnee’s Monique Temple hit a pair of free throws which cut Deer Creek’s lead down to three with 1:59 left on the clock. The Antlers then turned the ball over, giving Shawnee the next possession.
Temple attempted to tie the game with a 3-pointer that was off the mark. Deer Creek’s Dakota Vann got the rebound and was fouled. She hit both free throw attempts and put the Antlers back up by five.
The Wolves’ Micaela Yu fouled out with 1:22 left in the game as she and Vann went for a loose ball. Vann hit her free throws again and Deer Creek went up by seven and regained control of the contest.
The Antlers closed the night out by knocking down free throw after free throw. As a team they were 23-for-26 from the charity stripe.
“We stepped up and made big free throws,” Manning said. “That was huge for us. They battled back and we held them off. I knew it was going to come down to free throws. And we were clutch in free throw situations tonight.”
Bailey Taylor led Shawnee with 19 points and Tyann Maytubby chipped in with 12.
In her final game with Deer Creek, Gibson posted 21 points, three assists, three steals and three rebounds. She also played shut-down defense on the Wolves’ top players.
“I think I played pretty well,” Gibson said. “With my team supporting me, I think I played pretty decent. It’s very special, but I couldn’t do it without them though.”
Bayli Blanchard scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Vann, a sophomore, scored 14 points, pulled down nine boards and was 8-for-8 from the line.
“It’s really special. We worked all season long for it. It’s been tough getting here. But when we get here, it doesn’t matter. The only thing on our mind is getting that gold ball. The season was fun. I enjoyed it a lot with the seniors. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Vann had her hands full with Yu to start the game. The 5-11 senior had a nice jump shot, but could also rough it up in the middle for rebounds and put-backs.
Yet it was the Antlers who held a 14-12 advantage after the first quarter. Blanchard led the charge as she posted 7 points in the quarter.
Both teams had troubles finding the basket in the second quarter. They had more turnovers than made baskets.
However, behind Gibson’s 16 points, the Lady Antlers went to the locker room with a 23-22 halftime lead.
“She was solid tonight,” Manning said of Gibson. “She cramped up in her leg and battled through it. We put her on their best shooter and also said you have to go do some scoring for us.”
Deer Creek continued to attack the middle of the Wolves’ defense in the second half. Gibson, Blanchard and Vann took turns posting up in the paint.
When Yu picked up her fourth foul with 3:15 left in the third quarter, that left the middle open for the Lady Antlers to continue to impose their will. Deer Creek had a 12-point lead heading into the fourth.
The Antlers tried to hold the ball the last five minutes of the game and run out the clock. But Shawnee picked up their defense and forced Deer Creek into turnovers that turned into points. Shawnee cut the lead down to 46-41 with 3:09 remaining.
But Deer Creek had just enough to hold them off and take home their first title since 2006.
“It’s amazing,” Manning said. “I don’t think it has sunk in yet. I think it will later. Just an awesome time for our team. Those young ladies worked extremely hard to get where we are. I am just so proud of them and blessed to coach that team.”