By Nick Hampton
The hole was just too deep for Checotah.
Despite the efforts of senior floor leader Braylon Warrior, the Wildcats fell to the Stilwell Indians in the championship game of the Hilldale Invitational, 71-54 Saturday night at the Hilldale Event Center.
After a lackluster first half for Checotah that saw the Wildcats commit 15 turnovers and shoot 7-of-28 (25 percent) from the field, they roared back in the second half, but not enough to overcome a 39-17 halftime deficit.
Stilwell added two more points to start the third quarter before Checotah made its charge. A tenacious full-court pressure defense forced the Indians into 10 turnovers in the quarter while Warrior helped the Wildcats rally with his penetrating drives into the paint. He finished the game with a team-high 18 points.
Checotah outscored Stilwell 19-9 to cut the deficit to 50-36 early in the fourth quarter. But that would be as close as the Wildcats would get as the Indians used timely shooting by Brody Clay and Chase Littlejohn and overcame 7-of-15 shooting at the free throw line to keep the Wildcats at bay.
“Defensively in the second half, we did a lot better job of putting the pressure on them. Should have had more pressure in the first half, but it just wasn’t there,” said Checotah coach Jason Dowdy.
The Wildcats were also hurt by absence of junior Cameron Pipe who was ill. At 6-foot-4, Pipe might have been able to counter the size advantage that Stilwell possessed inside with 6-8 junior Matt Lea, who was a thorn in the Wildcats’ side. He scored 10 of his 15 points in the first half.
Junior Deshawn Jackson was the only other Wildcat in double figures with 15 points.
In other games, the Hilldale Hornets used an advantage at the free throw line to knock off Grove 61-51 in the tournament’s third-place game. Tied at 25-25 at the half, the game was nip and tuck until Hunter Harrison scored five points in the last 90 seconds of the third quarter to give the Hornets a 40-36 lead after three.
Hilldale (2-3) got into bonus free throw shooting early in the fourth quarter and was 11-of-14 from the charity line to post the victory.
Hunter Harrison led the way for the Hornets with 21 points while Bill Muse Jr. had 17 and Dylan Rowan contributed 10.
The other boys game saw Rejoice Christian defeat Morris 50-43 to claim fifth place.
The girls championship game went to double overtime before Grove defeated Morris 44-41. The Ridge Runners made five points by Karrah Bassett in the second overtime period stand up for the victory.
Hilldale rode a 32-point performance by freshman Katie Kirkhart to a 73-65 victory over Roland for third place.
“She’s got a lot of athletic ability,” said Lady Hornets’ coach Scott Hensley. “She’s a really hard working and coachable young lady as well as a great teammate.”
Nicole Wright added 16 points for the Lady Hornets who improved their record to 3-2 on the season.
The other game in the girls bracket saw Stilwell defeat Rejoice Christian 33-25 for fifth place