Sports Editor

For the second year in a row, the Foyil Panthers are on something of late-season roll.

They closed out the regular season with three straight victories, and with three more wins in four post-season games, the Panthers are in the area tournament within shouting distance of state.

Foyil, which earned a Top 10 spot last week in the CoachesAid magazine Class 2A rankings, takes a 15-7 record into a Thursday night survival game against Afton.

Last season, the Panthers ended the regular season on an identical three-game streak, and, despite a loss in the district tournament, rolled through the losers bracket to reach the area finals. They came up one win shy of the state tournament.

Their newest quest for state resumes at 8 p.m. Thursday in Glenpool.

They are trodding familiar ground.

A year ago, it was Oktaha that ended the Panthers’ playoff run, ending their five-game winning streak with a 60-45 verdict in the area finals.

Last weekend, in the regional finals, Foyil went to Oktaha. After building a 13-point lead in the third quarter, Foyil lost its momentum and fell, 62-61.

Against Afton Thursday night, the Panthers will be facing a team they defeated, 56-42, in last year’s area second round.

Foyil has proven in the playoffs that it can win with a plethora of points, or with a paucity of points.

Coach Jason Ward’s team turned the tables on Oklahoma Union’s delay tactics to win a 39-24 district tournament game.

In the opening round of the regionals, Foyil put up its second-highest offensive number of the season in a 77-32 conquest of Fairland.

“We’ve been playing pretty well,” Ward said.

“We’re peaking at just the right time — just like we did last year.”

He has a multi-faceted team, a team of specialists, in this his second season as head coach.

“Each one of those kids is good at what they do,” Ward said. “They have their own little niche.”

There’s Jason Kersey, a 6-4 senior. “Shoot, he can get about every rebound,” Ward said. Kersey is averaging 11 caroms per game.

And Taylor Antle, the 6-3 junior, is the leading pointmaker at 14.5. He’s also the most versatile Panther, in Ward’s words. He can go outside and shoot. He can go inside and score. He can defense the other team’s best player.

Eric Murray is the 5-10 director of operations. “He brings the ball down for us and gets everything started and hands the ball out,” Ward said. Murray is averaging 8.6 assists.

“When they’re all playing on the same night, we’re pretty hard to beat,” Ward said.

But that’s just part of the Foyil success story.

Jared Ward is a sophomore who is just rounding back in shape after missing a few games because of a broken finger. A starter in December before the injury, Jared Ward “has been a big lift for us since he’s come back,” the coach said.

For example, Jared Ward scored 17 against Oktaha last week, hitting four three-pointers in the third quarter. He’s averaging 10 points per outing since his return.

In his absence, junior Austin Hendrix “stepped in a really did a good job,” coach Ward said. “He’s a really good defensive player.”

Tyler Ridgway, a 6-4 sophomore, has been the other regular in the Panthers’ rotation, collecting points and rebounds in clusters.

“I like our chances,” coach Ward said.

A year ago, after losing in the district tournament, the Panthers had to play three games in three days in the regional, and three games in three days in the area.

It would have required six straight wins to reach state.

Foyil won five straight.

By winning the district this year, the Panthers had but two games in the regional. And, because of the weather delays during the season, they played two fewer games (20) than they did (22) during the regular season of 2005-06.

“That’s going to benefit us, as far as having our legs left in the end,” coach Ward said.

“Granted, we’ve got to win three games in a row, but I think we’re in good enough shape where we can handle that.”

The team, he said, certainly is in the right mental shape.

After defeating Fairland in the Thursday game of the regionals, the Panthers had a day off before traveling to Oktaha.

The Panthers wanted to play Friday. “They were so ready,” the coach said.

As it turned out, though, “maybe we were too geared up,” he said.

He calls the Oktaha game “a little bump in the road.”

His “Big Three,” as he refers to Murray, Antle and Kersey, have the ability and skills to smooth out most bumps.

The repaving project begins Thursday night.

A win would send the Panthers against the winner of Porum and Okay at 3 p.m. Friday. A third-round game, with a state tournament berth hanging in the balance, would be played Saturday night. The opponent would be the loser of Oktaha and Pocola.

Foyil would like one more shot at Oktaha.

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