The GHS Ridgerunner basketball team captured a 54-43 win over Tulsa Victory Christian Thursday night in first round action of the 4A-III area tournament at Coweta.
The win advances the Grove team to the area consolation semi-finals today (Friday) for a 3:00 p.m. date with Tulsa McLain at Coweta.
Thursday’s result means that the Ridgerunners are one of only 16 teams in 4A who are still alive in the playoffs.
“When you make the sweet 16 that’s a memorable year,” said Grove Basketball Head Coach Doug Winters. “And that’s what we want to do is make memories. The kids aren’t going to forget this.”
The Ridgerunners set the pace early Thursday stretching out a 23-16 lead at the break. By the start of the fourth quarter Grove held a nine point edge, 36-27.
The Conquerors fought back in the final frame and put together their best eight minutes of the night to provide some drama to the finish.
“They went to a 2-3 (formation) and I thought we could run some clock because we were in foul trouble,” Winters said of the fourth quarter. “It was probably my fault; I was trying to shorten the game so I could get Spychalski (GHS senior Tyler), Miller (GHS senior Ryan), and some of the others in foul trouble to the end of the game. So we tried to run the clock but got a little complacent and that gave them some momentum and it almost cost us.”
As starters Spychalski and sophomore Buck Maples fouled out the private school from Tulsa kept the pressure up and put together a three-point run at the start of the final two minutes of the game to make it a 45-41 Grove lead.
With one minute left on the clock VC scored a basket to pull to within three, 46-43.
“Midway through the season I kind of talked to the kids about deferring everything to Spychalski,” Winters said. “I told them that there’s going to come a time where we won’t be able to defer to Tyler to break a press or to get us in an offense.”
With Spychalski out the team turned to another senior, Trent Winters.
Winters doubled the Ridgerunner three point spread with an old fashioned three-pointer with forty-two seconds remaining. The shot re-energized the Grove troops and from there VC never scratched the scoreboard again as the Ridgerunners posted five more points to make for the final.
Winters had collected two fouls early and had to sit most of the first half. In the final two minutes of the game the senior went five of five from the free throw line with one assist and two critical defensive rebounds. He finished the game as the Ridgerunner high score with 13 points; all of them in the second half and seven coming in the critical fourth quarter.
“He had a big night. I’m tickled to death for him,” Winters said. “He’s my son and I want him to do well, but I want him to do well for this team.
“He took over those last two minutes,” Winters said. “Coach Collins (Jeremy, GHS assistant) challenged him. He told him, ‘You’ve got to be the man. You’ve got to get us through this tonight.’ Coach Collins challenged him and got Trent fired up.”
As happens more often than not in big-time games it was the seniors who rose to the occasion Thursday. Spychalski finished with 11 points, senior Chris Graham had seven- including a pair of treys, and Miller scored nine.
“Instead of playing not to lose we played to win in the last two minutes,” Winters said. “We started attacking the basket and knocking down free throws and getting rebounds. It was all about just settling down and breaking pressure and getting people in the right spots.”
Maples rounded out the Ridgerunner top-scorers with five points.
“It was his first start,” Winters said. “I felt like he had been playing big-time for us off the bench and that he’d earned it.”
The hectic schedule of the area bracket means that GHS will have little time to rest and enjoy their win before they go back out on the court to face another tough opponent.
“We just have to go in with no fear,” Winters said of the McLain match up. “They’ve been deep in the playoffs before and are a traditional power. We need to come out confident and with no fear. We just want to leave it on the floor. It’s an opportunity and the boys have earned it.”