The GHS Ridgerunner basketball team closed out 4A regional playoff action with a 71-44 loss to Ft Gibson Saturday night on the Tigers home court in the Area III finals.
Now the Grove team sets their sights on the area bracket of the post-season tournament with an 8:00 p.m. date this Thursday at Coweta against Victory Christian.
The Ridgerunners’ district championship win from last week, combined with their first round regional bracket victory over Catoosa earned them a bid in the area tournament no matter the outcome in Thursday’s regional championship game.
“We wanted to win,” said GHS Head Coach Doug Winters about the Ft Gibson game. “We saw the state tournament being one game away but now it’s three games away.”
Victory Christian (8-16) earned their way into the area tournament with a 50-44 win over Tulsa Webster Saturday night in a regional consolation championship game.
The road to the state tournament for the Ridgerunners begins with the VC game. A win there will pit GHS against the winner of the Tulsa McLain – Inola game. Should the Ridgerunners win that game they will then play the loser of the Ft Gibson – Tulsa EC area championship game for a birth into the state tournament.
“I think the moment got to us,” Winters said of Thursday night’s regional final. “They (FTG) are a very good ball club. They’re big inside.
“We got into foul trouble early and had nothing to answer for their size on the boards,” Winters said. “So we tried to pack-in a zone but they have tremendous perimeter shooters who shot well so it was kind of a pick your poison thing for us.”
The Tigers bolted out to a 20-5 lead at the end of the first quarter and stretched it to 43-21 by the half.
The Ridgerunners put together their best quarter in the third, scoring 21 points. Senior Chris Graham sank a trio of treys in the eight minutes with fellow seniors Ryan Miller and Tyler Spychalski landing baskets from beyond the arc as well.
“We showed our grit in the second half,” Winters said. “I was proud of our second half effort. We took it to them and played with a lot of pride. Now, being down 17 or 20 the pressure was off and we could just go play.”
Spychalski ended the night as the GHS high scorer with 16 points. Graham added nine with Trent Phillips scoring six and Miller finishing with five.
Thursday’s regional final was a tough one for GHS but the team adopted a philosophical view afterwards and began to place their focus on the upcoming area bracket.
“The boys were a little mad and upset and disappointed but we need to keep it in perspective,” Winters said. “We’ve had a great month. We take the games one at a time. We can build on this even though we’re disappointed.”
Winters felt the team was in better spirits after the post-game debrief.
“We’ll take tonight and learn from it. There are some great teams at the house right now and we’ve put together the wins that we needed (to get to the area tournament) and we’ve had kids step up and play,” Winters said. “We got better this week.
“Coach Collins (Jeremy, GHS assistant) and I sat down and plotted out where we wanted our program to be, and we want to be in regional finals like tonight. (Tonight) is a learning experience when you are trying to build something.”
As the Ridgerunner team prepares for Victory Christian they will have the support of the Ridgerunner culture fully behind them.
“I’ve walked in a couple of stores the last few days and people are shaking my hand and congratulating me and it’s all because of those boys,” Winters said. “The people in town are taking pride in our success. And that’s how you start building a tradition. We’re going places we haven’t been before and learning from the experience.”
The coach likes his team’s chances against Victory Christian.
“I think we’ll match up OK with Victory,” Winters said. “They are a solid team; they’ve been deep in the playoffs the last few years so they understand what’s going on. I think tonight we learned some of that. As long as we come in with no fear I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for us.”