The stage is set. The klieg lights are on. The countdown has begun.
Verdigris and Adair. The Rematch.
It was last season’s most anticipated matchup.
And it is again this season.
Four Top 5 teams.
Five losses among them.
State tournament berths hanging in the balance.
Revenge motives on each campus.
The story lines are plentiful and colorful.
The Verdigris boys and girls and the Adair boys and girls had their tickets punched Saturday night for a return engagement to the Bixby Shootout.
Just as they did in 52 weeks ago, they will meet again Friday night in a colossal doubleheader at the Whitey Ford Fieldhouse on the campus of Bixby High School.
The winners will move on to the Class 3A high school basketball state tournament in Oklahoma City.
The losers will be forced to regroup and return in less than 24 hours for redemption and another shot at one of the coveted state tournament slots.
If this were a heavyweight boxing match — and it’s not that far-fetched of a comparison — it would look like this:
In this corner, weighing in with a 20-3 record and wearing red and white trunks and tops, is the top contender in the boys ranks, the Verdigris Cardinals.
In the opposite corner, weighing in at 24-1 and wearing green and white trunks and tops, is the Cardinals’ top challenger, the Adair Warriors.
And in that corner, weighing in at an identical 24-1 and also wearing green and white trunks and tops, is the winner of last year’s match, the Adair Lady Warriors.
In the near corner, the undefeated, untied defending silver medalists, winners of 24 straight, wearing red trunks and red tops, the Verdigris Lady Cardinals.
In warmup bouts last week, Adair’s girls wrecked Kansas, 55-45, in a regional final at home, while the Adair boys humbled Haskell, 56-35.
On the Verdigris ledger, the Cardinals measured Holdenville, 86-66, and the Lady Cardinals had the most difficult time of the four, clipping Keys, 54-44, at Beggs.
On Friday night, the girls will enter the ring first, answering the 6:30 o’clock bell.
The boys will follow, squaring off at 8 o’clock.
A packed house is expected. Maybe even assured.
A year ago, several hundred people were left outside the overcrowded fieldhouse as school officials were forced to lock the doors long before the first tipoff.
Back then, Verdigris and Adair were 1-2 in the boys rankings.
Rotnei Clarke scored 45 points, taking the game into his own hands in the fourth quarter to snatch away the decision from Adair, 63-62.
The girls game did not live up to its billing, though. The Adair girls landed an opening haymaker and staggered the Lady Cardinals. Adair cruised to a 53-35 win.
The victories moved the Verdigris boys and the Adair girls into the state tournament. Shoved into the losers bracket, the Adair boys and the Verdigris girls regrouped the following night and posted impressive victories to also gain the state tournament field.
Both boys teams bowed out in the state semifinals.
Adair’s girls were ousted in the first round, but Verdigris reached the championship game before bowing to Tahlequah Sequoyah.
And, the only two undefeated girls teams in 3A this season are Sequoyah and Verdigris.
Still, before thinking about state tournaments, and state finals, Verdigris must think about Adair.
“If we could go back and re-do one game from last season, I think that would be the game we would do,” Verdigris standout Cassie Clarke said this week.
“They took a lot from us that night. We need to redeem ourselves Friday night.”