Aaron Colen, Sports Editor, Aaron.Colen@chickashanews.com
TULSA, Okla. —
Because it was eight minutes away from playing in the class 5A state championship game, it may be easy to forget that the Chickasha High School boys basketball team wasn’t supposed to be in Tulsa at all this weekend.
The Fightin’ Chicks have been the underdogs in almost every game they’ve played over the last three weeks. They beat No. 9 Bishop Kelley. They beat No. 3 Southeast, and they were one quarter away from beating No. 1 Bishop McGuinness on Friday evening in the state semifinals.
Chickasha lost the game 50-40, ending an unlikely playoff run for the No. 14 team 5A, a team that started the year 8-8 but finished 17-11.
“The kids had a great year, maxed out,” head coach Bryan Merritt said. “Nobody can say they didn’t max out on their potential. We’re up on the No. 1 team in the state and we were one quarter from playing for the state championship. That’s the same team that was 8-8 after we got beat by El Reno. I’m just really proud of them.”
The Chicks garnered state-wide attention during their trip to the final four of 5A, and Merritt pointed out the fact that his team was playing among the best from all over the state.
“You look out there, and what do you got?” Merritt said. “You have the best team from Tulsa, Tulsa Memorial. You have the best team from Oklahoma City, Bishop McGuinness. You’ve got the best team from Lawton, Lawton MacArthur. And then you’ve got Chickasha.”
In the locker room after the game, Merritt was positive even as his team was overcome with disappointment. When he was done with his post-game comments, he went around and hugged each senior individually, and congratulated each of the rest of his players as well.
“They couldn’t have done much more with what God gave them, just hard work, determination will do a whole lot for you,” Merritt said. “When you face adversity and tough times, you put your head down and work about five times harder. That’s what I want my guys to learn.”
For three quarters, Chickasha controlled the game. The Chicks led 13-4 at the end of the first quarter led by Joey Sylvester’s five first-quarter points and Deshawn Young’s active perimeter defense on Bishop McGuinness guards.
Datious Dufur picked up his second foul with 1:34 left in the first quarter, and came out of the game. That foul trouble would follow Chickasha through the rest of the game.
Chickasha kept the lead in the second quarter, but Dufur was called for his third foul with four minutes left in the half, and sat down again. The Chicks led 19-13 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Chickasha extended the lead to as many as eight points with 2:41 left in the quarter on a step-back, contested 3-point shot by E.J. Golightly.
Bishop McGuinness began to find its shooting touch, taking advantage of Chickasha’s change from a man-to-man to a zone defense by hitting 3’s, and the Irish trailed by only four going into the final period.
Dufur’s fourth foul came with one minute left in the third, and he was forced to go back to the bench once again.
Chickasha’s offense struggled from the start of the fourth quarter. Golightly went to the basket on the first two possessions, shooting an airball on one shot and getting blocked on the next attempt.
With 5:54 left in the game, Bishop McGuinness guard Greg Roberts hit a 3-point shot that finally gave the Irish a 35-34 lead.
After that, the game was Bishop McGuinness’. Chickasha had several 3-point attempts come up empty while the game was still within reach, but Roberts hit another 3 with 2:23 to play to give the Irish a six-point lead.
“We just couldn’t make that final play to win the game,” Merritt said. “If you get to the semifinals, you’ve got to be deep.”
Dufur fouled out with 2:05 left, and the looks on the players’ faces revealed that the game was slipping away from them. Young fouled out about 20 seconds later, and with 15 seconds left, Merritt put his reserves in the game down nine points.
“Datious picked up his quick fifth foul, really changed the complexion of the game, because McGuinness has two big men inside, and we had to downsize there and put Montana in, and I think that affected us a lot defensively,” Merritt said. “That’s where they kind of got out and got that lead on us.”
Sylvester was Chickasha’s leading scorer with 15 points, and Golightly scored 12, as the leaders of the team ended their career by pushing the No. 1 team to the limit and leading the Chicks to one of the best seasons of the last 40 years of the program.
Dakota Goombi scored six points, and Datious Dufur added five, and the Chicks will have a lot of talent to replace next season with the seniors that are graduating.
Merritt said he isn’t ready to think about next year yet; he’s ready to slow down after several weeks of traveling and intense games.
“I’m about ready to pass out,” Merritt said. “After Spring Break I’ll worry about that. Right now I’m worried about our kids. Monday, we have to have all the All-State stuff sent in, all the different awards and accolades. Then after that, it’s going to be trying to get E.J. and Joey some looks from some colleges. Then I’ll start worrying about the team and next year.”