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Lady Tigers win 5A District-3 Championship

When it was announced that class 5A was switching from conferences to districts for the 2023-2024 basketball season, the Lady Tigers had not suffered a conference loss since the 2019-2020 season. If the Lady Tigers were going to extend that streak in district play, it would only take a quick glance at the schedule to know that was going to be challenged by the Booker T. Washington Lady Hornets. The Lady Tigers walked away from Tuesday's game with a 71-67 lead against the opposing team.

The Lady Hornets were responsible for one of only four losses suffered by the Lady Tigers in the 2022-2023 season. If the Lady Tigers were going to accomplish this impressive feat, they would have to defeat BTW on their home court where they hadn’t suffered a defeat in over two years. The stage had been set for a memorable game with the district title on the line.

Early in the game, it looked like this might be the Lady Hornets’ night of taking a 17-5 lead utilizing a 12-0 run against the Lady Tigers, which forced Tahlequah Coach David Qualls to use an early timeout with 2:52 left in the quarter.

The veteran Lady Tigers never appeared rattled and came out of the timeout going on a 11-3 run themselves to end the first quarter only down 16-20.

The second quarter was maybe the finest defensive quarter of the season for Tahlequah. They only allowed four three-point attempts in the entire quarter, all misses.

All the Lady Hornets’ points scored in the quarter were from the charity stripe. In contrast, the Lady Tigers were heating up and going 9-13 from the field, including four 3-pointers and taking a 38-27 lead into the locker room.

With several minutes gone in the third quarter, the Lady Tigers built a 14-point lead, 43-29, and appeared to be cruising. But momentum can be a fickle friend and can leave even quicker than it arrives.

Jersey Retzloff tried to stop a Lady Hornet fast break and was called for a flagrant foul. After sinking both free throws, the Lady Hornets were able to drain a 3-pointer resulting in a five-point trip and cutting the lead into single digits.

Several times during the rest of the quarter, Tahlequah was able to get it back into double digits, but the Lady Hornets refused to go away, staying just within striking distance. The third quarter ended with the Lady Tigers maintaining their lead 47-37.

The stage was now set for an incredible quarter of high school basketball in a playoff atmosphere.

The Lady Hornets immediately went on a 10-4 run to begin the quarter, fueled by a full-court press that resulted in several Lady Tiger turnovers. Once again though, the Lady Tigers would not be rattled by the pressure and were able to beat the press for several uncontested layups.

Marcayla Johnson wouldn’t allow the Lady Tigers any breathing room; however, hitting basket after basket in the quarter. The Lady Hornets were able to close within two with three minutes to play.

Tahlequah was able to answer with a Kori Rainwater jumper that came off an offensive rebound and assisted by Jadyn Buttery with 2:45 left. Tierra Owens missed a three-pointer on BTW’s next possession. Talyn Dick secured the rebound for the Lady Tigers and calmly knocked down a jumper on Tahlequah’s ensuing possession with 2:06 to play, and a 61-55 lead.

Johnson was able to get the finish on a basket over Rainwater with 1:45 to go and a four-point Lady Tiger lead. With time winding down, the Lady Hornets were forced to start fouling to stop the clock.

Dick was the first Lady Tiger to go to the line. She calmly knocked down both for a six-point Tahlequah lead with 1:06 to play. Johnson hit a long three-pointer with two Lady Tigers in her face to close a three-pointer with only four seconds going off the clock.

The Lady Tigers were able to beat the press for a Rainwater layup with 48 seconds remaining. Booker T. quickly came back down the court and once again Johnson hit a long three-pointer in the face of two Tahlequah defenders to close two points with 38 seconds left to play.

Again, the Lady Tigers were able to beat the press for a Buttery lay-up off a great pass from Retzloff to go up by two possessions. Johnson finally missed a three but BTW secured the offensive rebound and picked up the foul on the put-back attempt.

After hitting both free throws, the separation was once again two points. Rainwater was fouled on the inbounds with 19.4 seconds to play. She went to the line with the chance to go up by two possessions. After missing the first by barely grazing the rim, Coach Qualls pulled all the Lady Tiger rebounders back to half-court to keep from unintentionally fouling on a potential rebound attempt.

Her second attempt hit the front of the rim but surprised the Lady Hornet rebounders. The ball glanced off two Lady Hornets before miraculously ending up in Rainwaters hands.

She immediately found Buttery, who was fouled with 14.5 seconds to go. Buttery calmly hit both for the four-point lead. Madi Mathews almost got an amazing steal as Johnson was about to attempt a three-pointer, but was called for a not-shooting foul with 10.7 seconds to go.

On the ensuing inbound, BTW missed another three-point attempt but was once again able to get the offensive rebound and fouled on the putback attempt. The Lady Hornets were down by four points with 5.6 seconds left and chose to make both for a two-point Lady Tiger lead.

Tahlequah inbounded the ball to Dick who was immediately fouled with four seconds to play. Once again, she was able to calmly step to the line and hit both for a two-point possession lead. Johnson’s desperation three-point shot fell short for the Lady Tiger win 71-67. In the fourth quarter, Tahlequah scored 26 and Booker T. Washington scored 30.

Tahlequah shot 46 percent from the field and went 12-16 from the free-throw line. The difference in the game was 16 offensive rebounds for the Lady Tigers and only eight for the Lady Hornets. Booker T. Washington shot 54 percent from the field and 18-20 from the free-throw line. Johnson scored 17 points in the fourth quarter and 24 overall.

Buttery had 19 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Dick also had 19 and went perfect from a pressure packed free-throw line. Rainwater had 16 and six blocks while Mathews had 15 points and went perfect from the field 5-5, including three big threes and 2-2 from the free-throw line.

Retzloff, even though she didn’t score, she picked up four rebounds and three huge offensive boards, in the fourth quarter she had two huge assists. Paisley Qualls finished with two points and played great off the bench.

What’s next

The Tahlequah Lady Tigers are hosting a regional game at the TMAC. The first round is Tuesday, Feb. 20 against Edison Prep, followed by McAlester going against Collinsville at 7:30 p.m.


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