Verdigris junior Jaren Keith (10) gets in a defensive stance during the homecoming game against Miami on Friday, Jan. 31.

McLOUD — A grin crept across Jaren Keith’s face as he watched his game-opening 3-pointer fall through the net.

For Verdigris, a team looking to keep its season alive and reach the coveted 20-wins mark, it was a desirable start. But that smile didn’t last, and neither did the lead.

The Cardinals’ never led again as they were relegated to playing a game of catch-up for the remainder of the contest on the way to a season-ending 65-44 loss to Douglass in a Class 4A Area II consolation game at J.E. Walker Field House in McLoud on Friday afternoon.

The Trojans (13-12) went on to defeat Catoosa 50-36 in the consolation finals on Saturday to advance to the area tournament in Midwest City, where it will play Cache at 8 p.m. Thursday.

Verdigris (19-8) trailed by 10 late in the opening frame, and despite coming within four at 21-17 midway through the second thanks to a short spurt from senior Brock Fugate, the Trojans never seemed to lose control.

Douglass, led by J.J. Webb, embarked on an 18-3 run shortly thereafter, putting the game out of reach for good. The Trojans increased their lead to as many as 27 points twice in the fourth quarter (54-27, 57-30) before settling for the 21-point victory.

“Something we were worried about was their pressure speeding us up and us not taking care of the ball, giving them transition buckets,” Cardinals coach Chris Houk said. “But basketball is a game of runs, and you hope you have time to overcome those runs, and unfortunately we didn’t.”

Webb was one of three players to score in double figures for Douglass, finishing with 17 points and 7 rebounds. Elijah Banks added 16 points and 3 boards while C.J. Moss chipped in 13 points and 4 rebounds.

Verdigris committed 21 turnovers along the way and shot only 13-of-23 at the free-throw line. It also lost the rebounds battle 40-29.

Fugate led the Cardinals with 13 points and 6 rebounds. Brant Hager (9 points, 6 rebounds), Trent Haddock (8 points, 3 rebounds) and Keith (8 points, 2 rebounds) had solid performances as well.

Tyler Haddock, Verdigris’ leading scorer throughout the season, finished with only 1 point and 4 rebounds to close out his career as a Cardinal.

Despite its disappointing conclusion, Houk said this season was a major success for Verdigris, and rightfully so.

This group of four seniors—Tyler Haddock, Hager, Logan Cagle and Fugate—endured a rebuilding period the last two seasons that saw the Cardinals accumulate a combined record of 19-34.

They managed to equal that win total in 2019-20 alone with a 70.4 winning percentage.

“The last two seasons for these seniors were losing seasons record wise,” Houk said. “For them to turn it around from getting 19 wins the last two seasons to getting 19 wins this season speaks volumes.”

Verdigris has plenty to look forward to next season with the likes of Keith, Trent Haddock, Ethan Bell and Caden Parnell returning, but for now it mourns the end of a special year.

“It doesn’t hit you until it’s over,” Houk said. “You try as a coach to tell them, but it’s something you have to experience. It’s always tough.”

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