Panthers 0-2 at Area, out of playoffs
By Justin Scrimshire
ONL Sports Reporter
Scorching through the 2019-20 basketball season with one highlight reel after another, the Panthers seemed primed to make a run at state. All they needed was just one win at area. Just one.
By the end of the first quarter in their first game at area, the Panthers were looking for just one point. That painfully quiet quarter would serve as an omen to what would become a shocking and disappointing exit from the playoffs and the season.
The 10th ranked Panthers squared off against 5th ranked Rejoice Christian on Friday, March 6th, inside the Mvskoke Dome in Okmulgee. The winner would immediately advance to state.
The first quarter was an entirely one-sided affair with the Panthers unable to score a point. Okemah’s defense still managed to play Rejoice Christian tough and the Panthers only trailed 8-0 at the end of the quarter.
Okemah turned it around in the second quarter and managed to outscore Rejoice Christian 11-9 during the quarter, but still trailed 11-17 going into halftime.
In the third quarter, Rejoice Christian doubled up Okemah 16-8 and took a sizeable 33-19 lead into the final quarter as Okemah struggled to keep up offensively.
Hopes for a fourth quarter comeback dimmed as Rejoice Christian opened the quarter with a 7-0 run. Okemah did outscore Rejoice Christian in the final quarter 13-11, but the two-point differential wasn’t nearly enough to overcome the overall 44-32 deficit and the Panthers were sent to the consolation bracket for their next opportunity to advance to state.
On Saturday, Okemah faced an even tougher opponent with their showdown against 4th ranked Howe. The Panthers were victorious against Howe in the championship round of Regionals inside the Tom Condict Panther Dome just one-week prior, 62-55.
Optimism abounded but turnovers and missed shots culminated with a 7-0 run from Howe to open up the game put Panther fans on edge early. Okemah managed to put 7 points of their own on the board before the quarter was through, but Howe continued to roll and had a 20-7 lead heading into the second quarter.
Okemah slowed Howe’s tempo down during the second quarter and limited the Lions to 9 points, but again the Panthers only scored 7 points in the quarter and trailed 14-29 at halftime.
As Bon Jovi’s Living On A Prayer belted from the Mvskoke Dome loudspeakers during halftime, certainly a few prayers went up from the Panther faithful, looking for mercy at the basket as so many shots failed to drop for Okemah.
Unfortunately, those prayers returned unanswered during the third quarter as Okemah’s 9 points paled in comparison to Howe’s 16 points and the Panthers faced a daunting fourth quarter task of overcoming the Lion’s 45-25 lead.
The final quarter turned out to be a wash as the Panthers scored 15 points, their most points in a quarter during the area tournament, but Howe scored 16 points and sent the Panthers home for the season with a 61-40 loss.
The three days spent at area were a hard pill to swallow for Panther fans and student athletes alike, but that is the bittersweet reality of sports. A disappointing end cannot diminish a pretty amazing year and there is plenty to celebrate.
This reporter observed true sportsmanship, pride and grit from the Panthers and Lady Panthers throughout the season. Hugs and family support awaited wins and losses. Character remained an undefeated virtue this year.