Feb. 20 – FORT GIBSON – Shooting-wise, if this Fort Gibson Lady Tigers team that started the year with just one starter performs the way it did Saturday night, that 18th straight state ticket is definitely in his line of sight.
Fort Gibson was on track from long range, hitting 15 of 28 shots from 3-point field and used that punch to overpower the Sallisaw Black Diamonds 59-45 in the playoff district round. Class 4A at John Harrison Field House.
Jenna Whiteley, that lone returning starter, was 4 of 5 in the first quarter, all in a run that gave the Lady Tigers a 17-2 lead with less than 3 minutes to go.
Whiteley had a season-high 20 points, including 6 of 11 from the line for the game. His six 3-pointers were also a season high on 11 attempts. It was her best game since a 27-point effort against Hilldale last season in which she had seven 3s.
“I mean, last home game for me,” said Whiteley, one of six seniors on the roster, explaining why her personal bar was raised.
“Jenna also shot well at State last year,” Fort Gibson coach Scott Lowe recalled. “Sydney (Taylor) has been our bell cow offensively and Sallisaw has come out playing like she’s worried about her and getting help on her. Addy (Whiteley, Jenna’s younger sister) has been a bigger contributor offensively than Jenna but that’s just the way things worked out for us.
“Jenna is confident to take them. She’s not going to miss a few and then turn down the next one. When she’s hot, she goes, and they had a girl strictly on her chasing her all over the floor in the second half. .”
Feather TwoShields was 5 of 9, her own season high for 3, and her 15 points were the best she had this season. “It was a welcome sight tonight to see her move forward the way she did,” Lowe said of another senior.
The Lady Tigers (19-4) will face Seminole in a regional semifinal rematch from a year ago, won by Fort Gibson 70-47 in Seminole. This game will be at Perkins.
“They got most of their starters back and we’re a different team on the pitch than they saw last year,” he said.
But it happens in this type of Fort Gibson playoff zone.
Ellie Martin led Sallisaw (9-12) with 13 points.
Fort Gibson 72, Sallisaw 62
It was a story of two halves. Luckily for the Tigers, the end of the worst half worked just enough in their favor to advance to the regional semis.
Fort Gibson (20-3) led 38-26 at halftime, helped by an 11-2 run in 1:56 of the first quarter to lead 15-5, then closing with an 8-2 run in the second.
Suddenly, Sallisaw’s inside game appeared and scared the Tigers, who missed their first 10 shots of the third quarter in 5 1/2 minutes.
Ty McHenry, who had just two points in the first half, had a team-high 15 of his 17 points and helped generate an effective inside-out game that brought the Black Diamonds back deep. His backdoor flat to Jackson Obregon for a layup tied the game for the first of five chances at 43-all. McHenry then converted an inside three-point game for a 46-46 tie with 33.5 remaining in the third quarter.
Seth Rowan, whose free throw game would prove huge for the Tigers down the stretch, hit a pair to go up two before the Diamonds’ Tanner Mings hit a 3 to start the fourth, putting the Tigers behind for the first times.
With the game tied at 57, Jaxon Blunt hit a pair of free throws, Jaiden Graves connected inside for a 61-57 lead and then the Black Diamonds’ Sim Kilpatrick slipped near midfield as Graves dived for the ball and tied it down. Fort Gibson had the possession arrow and closed the game on an 11-5 run.
“Not all of them will be pretty,” Fort Gibson coach Todd Dickerson said. “As Jimmy Valvano said, survive and move forward.”
Despite McHenry’s best efforts.
“He’s a good player,” Dickerson said. “We were right there, and he scores above us. If we see them again, we’ll have to do a better job against him.”
Rowan, who had two points at halftime, finished with 15, hitting 11 of 12 in the second half and 8 of 9 in the fourth. Blunt, whose 21 points for Fort Gibson was a game-high, was 5 of 6 from the line in the second half and 4 of 4 in the fourth. This followed a 10-point second quarter for him.
“We did what we had to do,” Blunt said. “We went flat in the second half and (McHenry) was working us. I thought they used it a lot more in the second half than they did in the first, and we were on a roll most of the time. .
“But you know, we have Seth, Jaiden and I who, as seniors, have been in a lot of these games in four years. We’ve grown to the point where we’re mentally capable of handling it.”
Graves had 19 points, including 7 of 10 from the boards.
Fort Gibson will face Perkins-Tryon, a 43-28 winner over Seminole, at Perkins on Thursday, a setting that is sure to be hostile for the Tigers.
“Those are the games I love the most,” Blunt said.
Behind McHenry, Mings finished with 15 points for Sallisaw (9-12). Kilpatrick had 12. Obregon, the son of Tigers fastball coach Joe Obregon, had 10.
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