By Corbin Hosler
The Norman Transcript
EDMOND — The Southmoore lead kept growing. But so did the number of SaberCat fouls.
When the latter finally reached a breaking point midway through the fourth quarter, Southmoore was without its leading scorer and several other key players and the lead had been cut to just 10 points.
But thanks to some clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch, the SaberCats held on for the 61-46 victory over Norman High on Thursday in the opening round of the playoffs. Southmoore advances to face Edmond Santa Fe, which defeated U.S. Grant in the second game of the night, at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
It was a season-ending loss for NHS, one that symbolized the Tigers’ entire season of ups and downs. They came out unfocused and watched Southmoore build a 21-point lead. But the Tigers looked like an entirely different team after halftime, defending up and down the floor and attacking the basket on offense while they clawed back into the game.
After Southmoore’s Serithia Hawkins fouled out with 5:54 left in the game, the SaberCats were up 51-37 and faced the prospect of playing the final six minutes without their leading scorer, who had already scored 24 points and pulled in nine rebounds.
The Tigers took advantage, cutting the lead to 10 points before Southmoore’s Kyeria Hannah, playing with her own four fouls, took over. She hit eight of nine free throws in the final five minutes, part of a 15-for-19 performance as a team for Southmoore, to secure the victory.
“We were a completely different team in the second half, and I’m proud of that team,” NHS coach Nichole Copeland said. “I was disappointed with the first half, but when we did what we had practiced doing we played well, and we won the second half. For the young guys, that gives us something to build on.”
It’s a valuable lesson for the five freshmen who saw significant minutes for the Tigers this season, a group that will come back as sophomores with a season’s worth of experience.
Not joining them next year are the team’s three seniors. Taylor Ely, Chandler Coale and Becca Maeder will graduate in May, and all three left a mark on the program.
“When Taylor came here three years ago, she was just a shooter,” Copeland said. “She’s improved her game so much in three years. Her defense has improved and she can take defenders off the dribble. She has a bright future ahead of her. I thanked Becca for how important her role was on this team. She’s a senior who didn’t get a lot of minutes but worked hard in practice every day. She was a fantastic teammate.”
The final senior on the squad is Coale, daughter of Oklahoma women’s coach and former NHS coach Sherri Coale. Copeland said that coaching her in her final game was a special experience.
“Eighteen years ago, I was in my first job and her mom was pregnant with her,” Copeland said. “To coach her for the last three years and watch her grow as a player and a person was special for me. I felt like it came full circle.”
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