The boys survived a late shot, the girls survived a late surge, and, ultimately, Verdigris survived a potentially dangerous trip to Dewey Saturday night.
Verdigris was the last Rogers County high school basketball team to return to action following the paralyzing ice storm.
The undefeated Lady Cardinals, who last played on Jan. 11, let a 13-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle to four before going to the free-throw line and pulling out a 52-44 victory over Dewey.
Things were a little more tense for the Verdigris boys. They wasted a 12-point lead, felll behind in the last 80 seconds, regained the lead on a freshman’s three-pointer, then watched as a winning attempt bounced away with two seconds remaining. The Cardinals, whose last game was Jan. 9, escaped from the crowded and noisy Bulldogger gym with a 56-54 win.
After registering win No. 12, Verdigris coach Gary Kennemer told his squad Saturday night: “This was a playoff win. This was the atmosphere, the intensity that you get in the playoffs.”
He was right on. The Dewey gym was electric. And Verdigris responded to the situation like the team that had played for the state championship last March.
With five different players contributing, the Lady Cardinals converted 10 of 13 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter. They defended well, and they refused to wilt in the face of the Dewey comeback.
“I thought we handled ourselves pretty well,” Kennemer said.
It could have been so much different.
Verdigris lost two players — Cassie Clarke and Mattie Weber — to fouls, and another — Tiffani Nelms — to a broken nose, all in the fourth quarter.
Around these departures, Dewey kept chipping away at what had been a comfortable lead for Verdigris.
Christy Nitz, the outstanding senior post, went to work and scored 12 of her 19 points in the fourth quarter. Six of those points came at the free-throw line, the result of a strong, rotating defensive effort on the part of two and three Lady Cardinals.
“We spent the entire fourth quarter with somebody right in front of her and right behind her,” Kennemer said. “The harder we tried to guard her, the better she got.”
The 6-0 Nitz led both teams with eight rebounds. But given her free-throw attempts, she finished with seven of 12. Three of those misses were at the front of one-and-one opportunities.
Verdigris was much more opportunistic when it came to free throws.
In the fourth quarter, the Lady Cardinals made 10 of 13 attempts. Kait Heskett hit her four chances.
Nelms hit a three-pointer, and both of her free throws, in the opening minute of the fourth quarter to open a 42-29 advantage.
Midway of the period, she collided with Dewey’s Leslie Gordineer near midcourt. Nelms sustained a broken nose and left with 13 points. Gordineer left with a blood-stained uniform but returned in the final minutes.
Nelms, the Lady Cardinals’ 5-3 senior energizer, was fitted for a face mask Saturday night. She might miss a game or two this week, but Kennemer said her availability would best be described as “day to day.”
“If we played today, she’d be mad if she didn’t get in the ballgame,” he said Monday. “That’s the way she is.
“She didn’t want to come off the floor when we told her it was broken. She would have kept playing if we had let her.
“But obviously she couldn’t see what we saw.”
Basically, what Kennemer saw was a team effort that withstood a frantic finish by a determined opponent.
Four players — Clarke, Nelms, Kait Heskett and Meg Heskett — pulled in five rebounds each.
Clarke finished with 21 points. It was the fourth straight 20-point game for Clarke.
The two teams met in the season opener, Nov. 28, at Verdigris. Clarke scored 18 in that 59-49 victory.
Dewey, which dropped a 53-50 decision at Vinita on Friday night, stands at 8-6.
Rotnei Clarke scored 41 points, and cleared the 2,000-point career barrier, but it was his eighth rebound that was a more significant number, in terms of team success.
The Cardinals, who had been idle for 18 days, had difficulty holding leads against the aggressive Bulldoggers.
Verdigris held a lead of 10 in the first quarter, and lost it in the second.
The Cardinals opened a nine-point halftime lead, pushed it to 12 in the third, and still had an eight-point advantage in the opening minute of the fourth.
Dewey scrambled back, forcing a series of three-straight turnovers, including an offensive foul away from the ball on Clarke, and took the lead at 54-53 with 1:20 remaining.
With much defensive effort focused on Clarke, freshman Cole Overholt found himself open with 43 seconds showing, and he dropped a perfect three-pointer on the Bulldoggers.
That might have been the final points of the game, but it was not the last of the action.
Dewey’s freshman sensation Anthony Wiley was whistled for a charge with 23 seconds left. D.J. Brown missed a free throw for Verdigris eight seconds later and Dewey’s versatile Brad Dunkle rebounded.
Senior guard Stephen Garrett, who had shadowed Clarke most of the night, shook free from the Cardinals’ defense and received a pass some 20 feet from the basket. He was open when he let it fly with two seconds showing, but the ball bounded off and into the hands of the leaping Clarke.
Clarke took a dribble to elude the pack, and was knocked to the floor by a Dewey player going for the ball as the horn sounded.
Verdigris had escaped with a two-point win, a considerably tougher confrontation than the season opener. When Dewey played at Verdigris on Nov. 28, the Cardinals romped, 71-46, and Clarke scored 43.
His only 40-point outings this season have been against Dewey. Last season, he had totals of 22, 24 and 38 in two losses and a win against Dewey.
Saturday night, Clarke scored on 14 of 21 field goal attempts, including five of eight from three-point range. He was five of seven on treys in the first half.
Clarke hit a jumper from the lane at 7:11 of the third quarter for his 31st point, and No. 2,001 of his 2 1/2-year career.
The 6-0 junior, being watched Saturday night by an assistant coach from Arizona State University, has 489 points this season, virtually half of his team’s total of 962. He is averaging 34.9 points.
As a sophomore, in 28 games, he scored 956, averaging 34.1.
He had eight games of 40-plus last season en route to the Class 3A state semifinals.
Verdigris improved to 11-3, while Dewey, which escaped at Vinita, 61-60, Friday night on a last-second, three-point shot like the one Garrett missed Saturday night, also is 11-3. The teams stand 1-2 in the Will Rogers Conference.
VERDIGRIS 56, DEWEY 54
Verdigris 21 15 13 7 — 56
Dewey 11 16 16 11 — 54
Verdigris — Clarke 41, Hollon 6, Overholt 6, Brown 3, Schultz 0, Sam 0, Smith 0. Lindsey 0.
Dewey — Dunkle 22, Wiley 11, Osborne 11, Myers 4, Garrett 4, Jones 2.
VERDIGRIS 52, DEWEY 44
Verdigris 16 14 7 15 — 52
Dewey 12 9 8 15 — 44
Verdigris — Clarke 21, Nelms 13, K.Heskett 9, M.Heskett 6, Weber 1, Julia Mitchell 0, Nichols 0, Blan 0.
Dewey — Nitz 19, Gordineer 7, Short 7, Moore 5, Nichols 4, Woodworth 2, Smith 0.