GROVE - In the two biggest classifications in Oklahoma, the basketball playoffs begin with a simple either/or proposition.
Win your first round game and you advance to the regional championship game. From there, win and you advance to the area championship game and a shot at the state tournament. Lose, and you still get a second chance in the area consolation.
Lose your first round game though, and you can start getting ready for track season.
In four tries spread over the past 10 seasons, a Grove team has never advanced past the first round of the basketball playoffs in Class 5A.
Richard Bassett and his Lady Ridgerunners now have the best chance a Grove team has ever had to do just that. Heading into tomorrow night's game against McDonald County, Mo. the Lady Ridgerunners are 16-5 and on a five-game winning streak
"That's been our goal, to get past that first game of regionals" Bassett said. "I know that's not the most lofty goal but Grove's never got past it since they've been bumped up to 5A."
Grove was bumped back up to 5A for the 2009-10 season and have stayed there since. In the 2010 playoffs they lost to eventual state champion McAlester before falling to Tulsa Edison last season 59-47.
Now they're facing a Collinsville squad that is slumping into the postseason. The Lady Cardinals are 8-13 on the season and have lost four of their last five.
It may look like something of a mismatch on paper, but Bassett thinks the two teams are a closer match than their records would indicate.
"They're good. We're going to have to go and play as well as we can play and limit our mistakes. Grove and Collinsville have a lot of similarities as far as student population and the type of athletes they have and different things like that."
They may be from similar schools, but the two teams play different brands of basketball. While the Lady Ridgerunners have been unbeatable in the paint all season, the Lady Cardinals are a guard-oriented team led by point guard Shelbie Kirby. Kirby leads the team with 18.8 points per game as well as 4.8 assists per game.
Bassett and his team hope to employ lessons learned during a 43-39 win over Enid and guard Courtney Chelf on January 28. Chelf scored 23 in the losing effort and is averaging 20 points per game on the season.
"Is [Kirby] as good as [Chelf]? No. Chelf is as good a basketball player as I've seen in a long time," Bassett said. "The difference is that Collinsville is a little better behind [Kirby]. If I double Kirby she'll throw the ball to somebody else that can do something with it."
Among Kirby's supporting cast is Haylie Kirby, who is averaging 9.2 points per game.
The Lady Ridgerunners will counter with the inside play they've relied on all season.
"What's been our strength all year is going to be our strength against Collinsville," Bassett said. "The three posts I can rotate in are better than anyone they've got, hands down. That's, hopefully, where we're going to pull away."
Bassett's three-headed monster of Kat Johnson, Mason Jeffries and Taylor Dodson has been more than most teams have been able to handle this season. The Lady Ridgerunners have only lost one game this season when all three were healthy. Dodson missed over a month following surgery for a broken finger.
"Getting Taylor back, obviously, has been a huge help for us," Bassett said. "It makes a big difference. My posts don't have to play so timid. If they get a foul or two, I can rotate somebody in that's the same caliber and athletic ability and that's just made a huge difference."
Having finished one of the most successful regular season a Grove basketball team has had in a long time, the Lady Ridgerunners are primed to surprise the rest of the state and possibly pick up a state tournament berth.
But first they have to do something they've never done before, win a playoff game in Class 5A.
"All of it's for naught if we can't go and beat Collinsville," Bassett said.
The Lady Ridgerunners and the Lady Cardinals will tip off at 6:30 Thursday night at East Central High School in Tulsa.