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A chapter closes

March 15, 2023 - 00:00
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KHS season ends in semis; seniors boast 103-7 record

  • A chapter closes
    KINGFISHER SENIORS Jax Sternberger (left) and Cash Slezickey embrace after the final buzzer sounded on their high school basketball careers. KHS was defeated 31-29 by Douglass in the Class 4A state semifinal last Friday night, ending a run that saw the Ja
  • A chapter closes
  • A chapter closes
    SHOOTING TOUCH – Kingfi sher senior guard Xavier Ridenour (4) puts up a 3-pointer from the corner during the first half of the Yellowjackets’ semifinal game at Yukon while Douglass head coach Steven Alexander and players look on. Ridenour scored 10 po

As Xavier Ridenour’s off-balance shot missed its destination, a chapter closed on the greatest stretch of basketball success Kingfisher High School basketball has ever seen.

Douglass denied the Yellowjackets a crack at yet another state championship when it dethroned KHS 31-29 in overtime Friday in a Class 4A state semifinal at Yukon High School.

A crowd that left very few open seats in the gym saw the Trojans’ Landry Ballard Jr. knock down a jumper in the lane to put his team up with just seconds remaining in the extra period.

After Kingfisher got it across half-court and called a timeout, the final play saw the double-teamed Ridenour try to provide heroics that weren’t in the cards.

The Trojans celebrated their massive win and another the next night when they held off a late charge from Weatherford, 48-44, in the state championship game.

“This was the first time in our seniors’ career that their season didn’t end in a win,” said head coach Jared Reese. “I think that says about all you need to know about the careers they’ve had.”

Indeed, Kingfisher’s campaign ended with a 24-4 record and it was the first time since the 2016 season that the season didn’t culminate in the state championship game.

The last time the Jackets’ year ended in defeat was 2018 when they were defeated by Heritage Hall in the finals.

This year’s group of eight seniors experienced a 103-7 record (.936) in their four years.

They were a part of two state championships and last year equaled the program’s best-ever record (28-1).

That ended with the Jackets’ hoisting their fourth gold ball in six years.

A fifth - or at least the opportunity to play for one - appeared every bit the possibility when Ridenour scored with 3:37 to play in regulation to give the Jackets a 27-19 advantage.

However, it proved to be Kingfisher’s final points of regulation and the last made field goal of the game.

After a timeout, Douglass responded with an 8-0 burst to tie the game in just over 90 seconds.

A big part of the run was spurred by the Trojans’ increasingly aggressive defense.

The Jackets had multiple turnovers against the pressure and Caden Kitchens was called for a charge with just under 1:00 to go.

All this while Jax Sternberger was forced to watch from the bench.

The senior picked up his fifth foul with 5:43 to go.

“Jax fouling out was massive,” Reese said. “His ability to handle the ball, especially after Maddox (Mecklenburg) went down earlier this season became huge for us. Not having him out there really hurt what we needed to do.

“Him fouling out might have been the biggest key to the game.”

After Kitchens was called for the charge underneath the Jackets’ bucket on a fast break, the Trojans worked the ball for a last shot.

Terry McMorris got that shot and his mid-range jumper went halfway down before popping out.

Ridenour secured the rebound and the game headed into the extra frame.

Jud Birdwell gave the Jackets a 29-27 lead with a pair of free throws with 3:37 to go.

KHS again went through a dry spell as it didn’t change the scoreboard the rest of the game.

Ballard tied the game shortly after Birdwell’s free throws and neither team scored again until the guard hit the game-winner.

KHS called a timeout directly after the made bucket and officials put 4.0 seconds on the clock.

Ridenour made a long pass to Birdwell just across half court before another timeout was used. The play took .9 of a second.

It was Mecklenburg’s turn to inbound the ball as Ridenour ran off of multiple screens.

Still, the Trojans closed out quickly, making Ridenour alter his shot in the air.

That was the case much of the night.

KHS shot just 11 of 32 (.344) for the game, which included a 2 of 13 clip (.154) from 3-point range.

The Jackets were already inclined to not get in an up-and-down game with the Trojans.

The opponents’ defense coupled with the physical play allowed in the lane caused some to paint Kingfi sher’s offense as a “stall game.”

“We weren’t planning on being THAT patient,” Reese said. “In reality, when we found out how it was going to be called, we had to get more patient with our offense.”

The plan was to make five to 10 passes and then run a set play against the Trojans.

“We weren’t really allowed to move; there wasn’t a lot of freedom of movement, so our sets didn’t work a lot of the time,” Reese said. “So then it turned into 20 to 30 passes.”

Attacking the basket also proved difficult and risky.

“Attacking the goal with a lot of contact can lead to transition the other way, so we had to be careful,” Reese added.

“Because we had a much better chance to stop them if our defense is set.”

And - for the most part Kingfisher did, in fact, stop the Trojans.

Douglass was only 12 of 32 shooting and missed all six of its 3-point attempts.

The Trojans were up 8-6 after a quarter and still led by that same margin when Kitchens drew a charge from McMorris, the latter’s second foul of the game.

The 6-foot-6 senior sat most of the rest of the half.

Kitchens single-handedly outscored Douglass 7-2 in the quarter for a 13-10 lead.

The Jackets maintained a lead throughout the third quarter and into the fourth.

Ridenour had two buckets and Drake Friesen a 3-pointer in the third, which saw KHS leading 2016 at its conclusion.

It also saw Sternberger grab his fourth foul with 28 seconds remaining.

Kitchens scored three points in the first 90 seconds of the fourth for a 23-16 advantage.

McMorris went 3 of 4 from the line to bring his team within four.

His slam after his team’s timeout after falling behind by eight points ended a drought that saw the Trojans go more than a full quarter without a field goal.

As with most foes, Kingfi sher held Douglass to its season-low point total.

“We didn’t do anything different,” Reese said. “There were some things we didn’t do like press and trap and we weren’t as aggressive beyond the 3-point line because they are so fast.

“But really we guarded them well and rebounded really well.”

Douglass’ 22 rebounds were two more than KHS.

McMorris was the only Trojan to reach double figures in scoring with his 13 points.

He was eventually named the state tournament MVP.

Ballard and James Greenhoward scored six points apiece.

Kitchens ended his night with 14 points and six rebounds, which was two more than McMorris.

Ridenour, named to the all-tournament team, scored 10 points and had five boards.

Friesen and Birdwell accounted for Kingfisher’s five other points.

Ridenour and Cash Slezickey played all 36 minutes of the game.

They helped carry out a game plan that gave KHS its best - perhaps only - chance to beat the Trojans.

“I don’t know if there’s another team in the state that could have executed the game plan we did the other night,” Reese said. “And they did it willingly, without question and without waver.”

Reese said there were several moments in the game in which other teams might have broken mentally.

“We made some mistakes at the end, but you’re going to do that some,” he said. “But they handled it as well as anyone possibly could. It was very commendable.”

It was also characteristic of that group, one that took to State Fair Arena floor on Saturday morning to collect the 4A academic state championship trophy.

With a combined GPA of 3.89, it’s the second time in three years Kingfisher has achieved that honor.

“That’s not surprising with these guys,” Reese said. “They’re just so unselfish and so willing to work. They have earned and deserve all the success they’ve had and there aren’t many groups in the history of this state that can say they’ve had more than these guys.”