LOCUST GROVE — When it comes to this year’s Verdigris girls’ basketball team, there are many bullets available in the gun chamber.
Seemingly every game, a different person steps up to provide an offensive spark for the Class 4A No. 9 Cardinals.
On Friday night, it was Kayla Darden’s turn. The senior guard tallied a game-high 15 points while going 6 of 7 from the field in the second half as Verdigris steamrolled Class 3A Lincoln Christian 64-35 in the semifinals of the Bank of Locust Grove Invitational at Pirate Arena.
With the win, Verdigris (10-3) will defend its tournament title from a year ago at 6 p.m. Monday by playing host Class 4A No. 18 Locust Grove (8-2), a 71-32 winner against Class 3A Inola in the other girls’ semifinal played Friday.
In boys’ action, Jaren Keith poured in a game-high 21 points and Tyler Haddock added a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds, but Class 4A No. 18 Verdigris could not overcome 20 turnovers in falling 78-62 to Locust Grove in a semifinal contest.
With the loss, the Cardinals (7-3) will meet Class 3A No. 3 Tahlequah Sequoyah (8-3) in the third place game at 4:40 p.m. Monday. The Indians lost to Class 3A No. 15 Adair 65-49 in the other boys’ semifinal Friday.
VERDIGRIS 64, LINCOLN CHRISTIAN 35 (G)
Much as Kylee McGuire did with her five second-half 3-pointers and 20-point performance in Thursday’s opening round tournament win, Darden notched 12 points in the second half against the Bulldogs (5-4), whose three previous losses had come at the hands of a trio of ranked Class 4A teams—Vinita, Grove and Victory Christian.
With Verdigris leading 29-15 at halftime, Darden posted back-to-back baskets in the third quarter on a shot underneath and a follow shot to fuel a 14-5 run that upped the Cardinals’ cushion to 23 points late in the period.
“I thought Kayla played a great second half,” Verdigris coach Mike Buntin said.
“She stepped up early and made big plays for us around the basket.”
Darden then ripped off eight-unanswered points in the fourth quarter to help Verdigris open a 57-29 advantage with four minutes to play.
“It’s all the team. We are doing it together,” Darden said of the Cardinals’ balanced scoring attack, which included Lexy Borgstadt adding 14 points and Morgan Borgstadt chipping in 13 points.
Despite missing only one of eight shots from the floor for the game, Darden wants to continue to improve on offense.
“I need to shoot better,” she said. “I need to work on my shooting.”
Morgan Borgstadt, a freshman, also shot well from the floor connecting on 5 of 6 field goals for the game. She had 10 second-half points.
Lexy Borgstadt just missed a double-double as she grabbed a game-high nine rebounds. Darden, Jordan Chancellor and Megan Turner collected six apiece as the Cardinals owned the boards by a 37-18 margin.
For the third-straight time in the new year, Verdigris jumped to a big early lead.
The Cardinals raced to the game’s first six points and led 19-5 after one quarter.
"I am proud of our kids,” Buntin said. “We took it to them.”
Verdigris forced 18 turnovers with many of those miscues being converted into fast-break opportunities.
“Our communication is good on defense,” said Darden, who sees some differences between this year’s squad and the team of a year ago.
“We play a lot faster and play more together this year,” she noted. “I think we are really coming together as a team.”
LOCUST GROVE 78, VERDIGRIS 62 (B)
The two teams traded blows for the game’s first seven minutes in which their were five ties, the final time at 11-11.
Tyler Haddock, who had a trio of 3-pointers in the game, gave the Cardinals a lead at 14-13 with one trey. After Locust Grove (7-3) answered with a basket, Haddock’s drive to the hoop put Verdigris in front one last time at 16-15.
From there, the host Pirates took command going on a 20-2 run over the next five minutes, much to the delight of a raucous home crowd at Pirate Arena.
“Intensity. We did not match their intensity,” Cardinals coach Chris Houk said, noting that the support of the hometown fans helped fuel Locust Grove’s intensity.
Verdigris did not help its own cause, turning the ball over eight times in the first quarter alone and 11 times in the second half.
“Everything we said we couldn’t allow them to do, we allowed them to do,” he added.
“We knew what was coming, and we couldn’t stop it.”
The Cardinals allowed 6-foot-7 junior center Kaden Wilkerson to have a perfect night from the field (7 for 7) on his way to 14 points while adding six rebounds.
Wilkerson was just one of four Pirates to end up in double-figure scoring. Zeke Simpson paced Locust Grove with 20 points while Caden Bendabout had 19, and Kyle Painter chipped in 13.
Jake Walkingstick just missed double figures with 9 points.
Brant Hager contributed 8 points and eight rebounds for Verdigris.
Houk said the team’s third-place game opponent, Tahlequah Sequoyah, will be just as much a challenge as was Locust Grove.
“It’s not going to be any easier against them,” Houk said of the third-place matchup with the Indians.
“They are just as tough (as Locust Grove).”
VERDIGRIS 64, LINCOLN CHRISTIAN 35
VERDIGRIS—Kayla Darden 15, Lexy Borgstadt 14, Morgan Borgstadt 13, Jordan Chancellor 8, Kylee McGuire 5, Megan Turner 5, Mackenzie Blackwell 4.
LINCOLN CHRISTIAN—Ellie Brueggemann 18, Micah Clayton 6, Katie Gleason 5, Adyson Roberts 3, Gracie Talley 2, Addy Smith 1.
3-point field goals: Verdigris—Chancellor 2, Kylee McGuire 1, Turner 1. Lincoln Christian—Brueggemann 4, Gleason 1.
Rebounds: Verdigris—Lexy Borgstadt 9, Chancellor 6, Turner 6, Blackwell 4, Kylee McGuire 3, Morgan Borgstadt 2, Daeya Moses 1. Lincoln Christian—Roberts 5, Clayton 3, Smith 3, Brueggemann 3, Chloe Ricke 2, Gleason 2.
LOCUST GROVE 78, VERDIGRIS 62
VERDIGRIS—Jaren Keith 21, Tyler Haddock 20, Brant Hager 8, Trent Haddock 6.
LOCUST GROVE—Zeke Simpson 20, Caden Bendabout 19, Kalen Wilkerson 14, Kyle Painter 13, Jake Walkingstick 9, Gavin Clift 3.
3-point field goals: Verdigris—Keith 3, Tyler Haddock 3, Trent Haddock 2, Hager 1, Cagle 1. Locust Grove—Bendabout 3, Simpson 3, Clift 1, Painter 1, Walkingstick 1.
Rebounds: Verdigris—Tyler Haddock 11, Hager 8, Parnell 3, Cagle 2, Ethan Bell 2, Trent Haddock 1, Keith 1. Locust Grove—Bendabout 8, Wilkerson 6, Painter 5, Walkingstick 4, Simpson 3, David Fogleman 1, Henry Sarten 1.