CHOUTEAU — Verdigris boys basketball coach Chris Houk probably thinks he sounds like a broken record when talking about his team’s resiliency.
Of the Cardinals’ 12 wins, six have been decided by single digits, including four by five points or less.
Two of those came over the weekend during the Chouteau Tournament, for Verdigris claimed wins of 54-49 and 49-44 over Keys and Cascia Hall, respectively, to win its second-consecutive tournament title. It won the Bank of Locust Grove Invitational Tournament two weeks ago.
“It’s their response, and that has been our word all season,” said Houk, whose team jumped two spots to No. 10 in the Class 4A coaches poll after the event. “We’ve responded well, and we’ve ended up on the winning end of it. That doesn’t always happen, but it’s good when it does. They keep fighting, and it’s paid off for them.
“They don’t give up, they don’t get their heads down and it pays off. They grind it out.”
Verdigris 49, Cascia Hall 44 (OT): When Cascia Hall opened the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run to take a six-point lead, Jaren Keith made a decision.
He and the Cardinals weren’t going to lose.
That mindset proved to be the difference, for the 5-foot-9 senior scored 14 of the team’s 18 points in the final 12 minutes of Saturday’s championship game, including 11 straight through the fourth period and overtime to extend Verdigris’ winning streak to 11 games.
He finished with a game-high 19 points despite entering the fourth with only five, outscoring the Commandos himself, 7-2, in the extra period. Jack Schloss, who had 14 points and six rebounds, tallied those two points for Cascia.
“Offensively, we just couldn’t get over the hump,” Keith said, “and I knew I had to come through and get something for us on the offensive end, and I got it done.”
Jax Ryan was the only other Cardinal to score during Keith’s spurt, hitting two free throws before making a layup to trim the deficit to one at 39-38 with just over a minute to play in regulation.
Moments later, Ryan intercepted a deep inbounds pass near midcourt and delivered an off-balance pass to Keith for an uncontested basket that gave Verdigris a 40-39 lead with 58.4 seconds remaining.
The Cardinals got a stop on Cascia’s ensuing possession, but Aidan Hicks — who finished with 14 points and two rebounds — disrupted their keep-away strategy with a steal and a three-point play to put the Commandos back on top at 42-40 at the 0:31.4 mark.
That is when Keith revealed his free-throw shooting prowess.
He went 7-of-8 from the line down the stretch to not only force overtime, but to also secure the victory. He missed three during regulation.
“I love it; I live for that,” said Keith, who also grabbed seven rebounds. “It’s a lot of pressure, but I live for that.”
Verdigris won despite missing one of its top scorers in Ethan Bell. The senior suffered a minor leg injury against Keys in the semifinals and sat out Saturday as a precaution.
Trent Haddock and Lucas Lechlider picked up some of the slack, though, with the former registering nine points and five rebounds while the latter added six points and eight rebounds.
“The good thing about this team is we can rotate 10 guys,” Houk said. “When the other guys are off, we’ve got another guy who steps up. That’s really been a blessing to us this year because we’ve got 10 guys who can ball. On any night, one of them will step up and do what needs to be done, and that’s what’s happened.”
Verdigris 54, Keys 49: It took an explosive fourth quarter for Verdigris to finally pull away from Class 3A No. 14 Keys on Friday.
The Cougars held the advantage through most of the game, but Keith and Haddock combined for 13 points in the fourth to spark the Cardinals on a 21-14 run in the final eight minutes.
Haddock led all scorers with 16 points, six of which came in the fourth, while Keith scored all of his seven points in that final frame.
Levi Williams paced Keys with 14 points while Gage Barnes added 10.