David Reeder

Special to the Grove Sun

Pryor - It wasn’t your typical Lady Comet game Friday night in the Area Championship at Pryor’s Burdick Center. But as far as Steve Odle’s squad is concerned, the results are all that mattered, as the defending State Champion Lady Comets punched their ticket to the State Tournament for the 10th time in twelve years with a hard fought 44-37 victory over 10th-ranked Verdigris. Much to the delight of Comet Nation, Kansas’s Heather Marshall, once thought to be lost for the season with an injury, was announced as a starter. And the post player’s impact on the game was immediate. Although she was only able to connect on a single third quarter bucket on the night, Marshall hauled in seven of her 11 rebounds, in addition to blocking two Lady Cardinal shots, in the first half.  But the quick Verdigris squad still managed to knockdown five of their last six shots from the field for 14 opening quarter tallies. In the meantime, Kansas got plenty of opportunities to score, but could only cash in on seven of Kelsey Barnwell’s game high 23 points, with three more by Courtney Cowan and a Taylor Proctor free throw to trail by three. The second stanza was a defensive struggle that saw the Lady Cards only connect on 2 of 10 from the floor and on one of two free throw attempts. And while the Lady Comet defense held their opponents to just five second quarter points, their offense couldn’t do much better, settling for only four points from Cowan and three points from Barnwell as Verdigris took a 19-18 lead at the half. The two offenses continued to work the ball slowly and carefully to open the second half. After Kansas tied things up 23 all in the middle of the third, the lead would change three more times before its conclusion. And by the end of the frame the two squads had scored only nine more points apiece.  By the midway point of the fourth, the Lady Comets got a great effort out of Hayley Blackwood underneath the Verdigris basket that helped Kansas knot things at 32 each. But fueled by two Bailiegh Odell baskets, the Cardinals (20-7) had a four point edge with 3-1/2 minutes to play.  But as they have all season, the Lady Comets turned up their defense when it mattered most, forcing six Verdigris turnovers over the next two minutes. The Lady Comets (22-3) picked up two more Barnwell field goals, the second of which led to her converting the traditional three point play and retaking the lead. With the lead and 1-1/2 minutes to play, Kansas played a game of keep away and made the Cardinals foul them. And the Lady Comets put in 12 of 18 attempts to go on a 12-1 game winning run, to wrap up their fourth consecutive trip to the ‘Big Dance’ next week in Oklahoma City. Editor’s Note: The Lady Cardinals would go on to lose to the Adair Lady Warriors 38-32 in the Area Consolation game on Saturday night in Pryor, putting Adair in the state tournament. Pairings for the state tournament will be released on Sunday by the OSSAA and will be published in the Tuesday edition of The Grove Sun. Follow the state tournament beginning on Thursday through our website www.grovesun.com.   Kansas 44, Verdigris 37 (Girls’ 3A Area Championship)   1st          2nd         3rd          4th         Final KHS       11          7            9            17          44 VHS       14          5            9            9            37   Individual Scoring: KHS: Barnwell 23, Cowan 14, Proctor 3, Blackwood 2, Marshall 2 VHS: Vestal 14, Odell 8, Payne 8, Grove 4, Cagle 3