By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
YUKON – It’s all about surviving at this point and for No. 8 Sequoyah in the early going of its Class 3A quarterfinal here Thursday against No. 5 Sperry, it was about surviving that first punch.
The Indians had early problems against another big man, this time Sperry’s 6-foot-6 Chris Cole. But they overcame those problems and a nine-point deficit, getting the lead with :45 left in the opening quarter as part of an 18-0 run.
That proved to be the counterpunch they needed in a 73-65 win over the Pirates at Yukon High School’s Miller Arena.
Cole had six points in the quarter, including his team’s first two baskets. Sperry went up 7-2 within the first couple minutes and Javi Cazarez’s 3 with 3:43 left put Sequoyah in a 12-4 hole.
Indians coach Jay Herrin then pulled the string on his first time out.
“We needed to redirect their attention to what we wanted to do and once we did those things, we started playing better,” Herrin said.
That formula – take it to the big guy and mix in the same bench play that beat defending champion Oklahoma Centennial and 6-6 Austin Garner in last week’s 3A Area I championship game.
“He’s not as athletic as Garner, who goes high and low in the post. He wants it down in the block and honestly, we were giving him too good a position there early,” Herrin said. “Once we corrected that and got into our transition game, we got going.”
T.J. Jones, a 6-2 senior who led Sequoyah in scoring Thursday with 21 points off the bench, entered and hit a pair of free throws and a couple of layups off fast breaks, the last on his own steal that put the Indians up for good at 17-15. Ryan Helsley picked it up in the second quarter, his first of two 3s part of the streak that saw Sequoyah lead 24-15 with 6:30 until half. The capper was his pair of free throws after being fouled by Cole.
That foul would be a sign of bad things to come for the Pirates (23-5), who ended the streak off a shot from Logan Mullins with 6:21 on the clock – the first field goal for Sperry since Cazarez’s 3 almost five minutes earlier. They would crawl back into it, getting within eight on Wyatt Brooks’ 3 at the buzzer to end the third period.
But just like Garner, though later in the half this time, Cole would foul out with 4:44 to play. B.J. Leach turned it into a three-point play to make it a 66-49 game. Mullins, along with Peyton Pratt, would follow him to the bench.
The Indians (20-8) hit just 20 of 33 free throws off those fouls, but nonetheless survived to advance into a 10:30 a.m. semifinal at State Fair Arena against second-ranked Okemah (26-3), a 68-51 winner against Crooked Oak in another Thursday quarterfinal.
“At times we really played the way we wanted to today, we did things right, but other times I said it was like we were in junior high,” Herrin said. “Give Sperry credit for some of that. They played hard, their kids never quit. And like I told my kids, it’s not about style points. We’ll take an ugly win, feel good about it and advance to the next round.”
Helsley led Sequoyah with 18 points, including two of the Indians’ eight 3-point baskets. Jones finished with 14 – not quite the season-high and team-leading 21 he had against Centennial, but good enough to create another necessary spark when his team needed one. Caisen Green added 13 points including a pair of 3s.
“The more we’d go into their body, the more we got them in foul trouble,” Jones said. “I’m having fun. I’ve never been to the state tournament. I haven’t been to the Big House either but that’s next. I’m not ready for this to end.”
Cole led Sperry with 12 points. Cazarez had 11 and Teel 10.
The Pirates hurt themselves from the line as well, hitting just 10 of 20 shots.