By Kolby Paxton
CNHI News Service
CATOOSA – Gioya Carter poured in 18 points, including a dozen in the second half, as No. 3 Carl Albert survived and advanced with a 44-37 victory over the seventh-ranked Tahlequah Lady Tigers in the Class 5A state quarterfinals on Thursday.
The Lady Titans trailed from the outset, falling behind by as many as 10, but crept within striking distance by forcing five turnovers in the first three minutes of the second half; a development that spurred an 8-2 spurt and closed the Tahlequah advantage to a pair.
The contest turned when Carl Albert exploded for a 9-0 flurry in the closing minute of the third quarter. Kelsey Vortbitt completed an old-fashioned three-point play, followed by a Carter deep ball. With time running out in the period, Carter canned her second consecutive long distance attempt, and suddenly the Lady Titans led 30-24.
In the final frame, Casey Beaston returned fire with a pair of buckets to pull Tahlequah back within a pair, but the Lady Tigers would never again lead.
“Casey has played well all year long,” said head coach Chad Walker. “Even when she doesn’t score much, even then she plays well. Her defense is good. She rebounds well. She’s done well. All of them have played well. It’s been a team effort.”
Carl Albert head coach Tim Price dialed up the pressure and physicality as the game neared its twilight and the Lady Titans began to create some space.
“They’re pretty physical and we don’t handle that well sometimes,” said Walker. “But even then, even at the end of the game, we were within two possessions.”
Nursing her injured ankle suffered in the opening round of regionals, Tahlequah’s leading scorer, Randee O’Donnell was in uniform, but didn’t see action. According to Walker, her omission from the tilt was due, in large part, to Carl Albert’s physical play.
“I felt awful that I couldn’t play Randee (O’Donnell) but they were so physical I was afraid she’d get hurt,” said Walker. “Probably her safety is more important than getting her on the floor.”
Beaston and Whitney Wright paced Tahlequah with 12 points a piece.
“I just got through telling the girls that part of the reason we had such a great year was due to their hard work and hustle, but the other part was that we spent every game after the game praising Jesus Christ for our loss or our win,” said Walker. “I think he put us in opportunities that, if we just had the will to take it, it was ours.”
Tahlequah, making state for the first time since 2001, finishes the season 17-10.