By Michael Kinney
Despite being one of the top teams in the state, Southmoore had gone through much of the season untested. They had not shown they could come up with the big shot with the game on the line.
That ended Friday when the SaberCats beat No. 4 Midwest City 68-66 on the road.
“This game was very big for us,” SaberCats guard Tilford Thorton said. “We read the paper and felt the pressure was on us. We felt we had to step up to the challenge.”
But it took a last second shot for the Cats to make that claim.
After watching his team squander a 23-points lead, Southmoore’s Austin Haywood had the ball in his hands with the clock running out and the score tied at 66-66. The 6-foot-4, junior center caught the ball at the top of the key and drove down the middle of the lane. He spun to his left and shot a fade-away, 10-foot jumper that was all net.
“When he caught the ball and dribbled toward the baseline, I was just saying come on Haywood. Come on baby,” Thorton said. “You got it. I just lit up and smiled because I knew it was going in.”
Haywood put Southmoore up by two with 3 seconds left. Midwest City’s Christian Huffman was able to drive the court and pull up just inside the 3-point line for a clean look at the basket. The ball rolled around the rim before lipping out.
Robert Wakefield led the Bombers with 18 points. Huffman added 17 and Xavier McClish chipped in with 13.
Brandon Lucas was the Cats leading scorer with 15. Haywood scored 13 and Thorton posted 12 in the win.
Southmoore, which led by 23 points in the third quarter, watched its lead dwindle as the Bombers increased their full court pressure. Even after Midwest City’s coach was thrown out of the game with his second technical, the Bombers kept the heat on and Southmoore didn’t respond until late.
“Thank goodness we were leading by 23 or we would have lost by 23,” Southmoore coach Wes Brown said. “They turned up the pressure which they are good at. We let it get to us. We were being overly protective of our lead. We quit being aggressive.”
MWC (15-4) had won eight straight games before Friday. Their last defeat was to Southmoore (15-7), which completes a season sweep of the Bombers by the first year program.
“That’s pretty sweet,” Brown said. “Not everybody does that. That’s a great confidence builder for sure. It’s a good time to have a confidence builder.”
The Cats will conclude their regular season this week with against No. 11 Del City. Even though DC has beaten SouthMoore this year, what has the coaching staff worried the most is the players on his team?
“We have some work to do next week,” Brown said. “We have Moore, who beat us and we have Del City, who beat us. And I don’t know if we are going to have everybody. It might be an interesting week next week.”
Regardless of whether they win or lose their final games of the regular season, the outcomes will not change their regional tournament slot. Despite sweeping MWC, the Bombers will be one of four host sites in the regional round of the state playoffs. Their bracket includes Southmoore, Westmoore and Norman North. Southmoore faces off with North 6:30 p.m. Feb. 27.
But first the Cats had business to take care of Tuesday.
The last time Moore and Southmoore faced off, the Lions came up with their biggest win of the season. The SaberCats made sure it would not happen again Tuesday as they rolled through Moore.
Southmoore (15-7) raced off to a 21-6 lead in the first quarter to end any doubt they would take Moore lightly.
Despite Haywood not being in the lineup this week for the ‘Cats, they led 36-17 at the half.
Moore (6-13) cut the lead down to 10 in the third, but Southmoore overwhelmed them in the fourth to put the game away.
Alex Rivera and Brandon Lucas had 14 points each for Southmoore. Thorton and Cody Bivens scored 12.
Keith Toles led Moore with 17.
By Michael Kinney