By Michael Kinney
The Moore American
HARRAH — Playing young in big moments has been a problem for Southmoore all season. In each of its losses, the contests came down to not being able to handle the pressure when it counted most. That included a painful loss to Edmond Memorial in the regional championship game last week.
But in their biggest game of the season, the SaberCats may have just grown up as they defeated Putnam City 57-48 Saturday in the area consolation championship at Harrah High. The victory propelled Southmoore (22-5) into the state tournament and proved to their coach they are ready to make a deep run.
“We played frazzled last week,” Southmoore coach Britney Kannady-Sayes said. “Kind of timid and scared. We didn’t do that this week. I don’t think we are going to do that ever again.”
With 3:15 left in the game, senior Kayla Tucker fouled out with her SaberCats leading 49-42. They had relied on her throughout the year to come up with big shots and plays, but she wouldn’t be there for the team’s most crucial stretch.
Instead, Southmoore went to its bread and butter and put the ball in the hands of sophomore Serithia Hawkins. She came up with consecutive baskets in the paint to put Southmoore up by 10. Then senior Kyra Gilbert hit a pair of free throws to knock the steam out of the Pirates.
“The key was to keep going up strong and keep scoring,” Hawkins said. “The team handled the pressure very well. We all did. We went up strong.”
Hawkins led all scorers with 22 points as she beat up Putnam City’s front line. Gilbert added 16 and Tucker chipped in with 12.
“I knew as soon as I fouled out, I knew the seniors and the players on the court would finish out the game,” Tucker said. “I was really confident in them knowing they could finish out the game because they have before.”
Southmoore’s biggest asset all year has been its towering front line. The duo of Kyeria Hannah and Hawkins have been able to manhandle their opponents most games with scoring and rebounding.
However, the SaberCats started the contest firing up 3-pointers from all around the arc. Even though they weren’t hitting, they were able to snag offensive rebounds and put them back for easy baskets as Southmoore jumped out to a quick 17-8 advantage.
The Pirates tried to run on the SaberCats and were able to get out on the break. But their passes upcourt were off target and often turned into turnovers.
With Southmoore leading 20-8, Tucker picked up her third foul midway through second quarter. Kannady-Sayes left her in the game and trusted she wouldn’t get her fourth with 5:46 left in the period.
The Pirates cut the lead to eight before Gilbert drained a 3-pointer and connected on a couple of free throws to give Southmoore a 33-21 halftime lead.
Putnam City forced the Cats into a rash of turnovers that helped the Pirates stay in the game. Even when PCO wasn’t applying pressure, Southmoore had problems keeping control of the ball.
As the turnovers and fouls mounted, the Pirates whittled Southmoore’s advantage down to 45-42 midway through the fourth. But they could get no closer.
The SaberCats joined Norman North, Edmond Memorial and Del City (5A) as the four members of the mid-State Conference to earn a spot in state. Southmoore will face Booker T. Washington in the opening round.
“This is monumental for our program and our team,” Kannady-Sayes said. “These girls deserve it. They wanted it and went and got it. So proud of them, and I can’t wait to see what happens next week.”