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Effort delivers path back to state

March 01, 2023 - 00:00
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Okarche overcomes rough start to defeat #3 Vanoss

  • Effort delivers path back to state
    EMMA STOVER scored the game winner as Okarche toppled Vanoss to claim a Class A area championship. [Photo by Russell Stitt/]

The words “work hard and good things will happen” echoed throughout the Okarche girls basketball program during the tenure of Cherie Myers.

Haley Mitchel, her daughter, was around it either as a player or an assistant coach for nearly a dozen years.

Now it comes as no surprise the tenet of hard work is still a major calling card of the Lady Warriors’ program now that Mitchel is the head coach.

So when Okarche “followed 0 percent of our scouting report,” it still found a way to beat No. 3 Vanoss 48-47 to win a dramatic Class A area championship at Shawnee High School.

Emma Stover capped another huge night when she drove the lane and scored with seven seconds left to put Okarche on top.

After a Vanoss timeout, the Lady Wolves double-dribbled, securing Okarche’s victory.

Okarche advanced to the state tournament for the 31st time in program history despite shooting 30 percent to Vanoss’ 70.

So how did the Lady Warriors prevail?

“We’ve really focused on intensity and full effort these past few weeks and how you’ll never regret giving all you have when you leave the court,” Mitchel said.

“It was awesome to see them prevail Friday night because those two things were truly the only reason we won.”

Okarche was seeking to avenge a loss to Vanoss in last year’s area final, something that might have factored into her team’s rough start, Mitchel said.

Vanoss jumped on Okarche 16-6 behind nine points from Avery Ellis, prompting Mitchell to call a timeout.

“We were taking quick shots instead of the best shot,” Mitchel said. “We talked about working the ball around to find a good shot and just needing to weather the storm.”

Ruby VanDenDreissche answered the call and ended Vanoss’ run with a 3-pointer.

In the second, Stover scored eight points and Scout Payne came off the bench to bury a pair of treys as Okarche evened the game at 24-24.

But Ellis stayed strong in the third with eight more points and Vanoss was able to stake a 36-30 lead over No. 7 Okarche entering the final quarter.

Back came Okarche, but only to start a back-andforth finish.

The Lady Warriors led 43-42 with under two minutes left when Vanoss’ Jacee Underwood nailed a 3-pointer with 1:48 left.

Underwood’s only points put her team up 45-43.

It was 45-44 with under a minute left when Stover’s bucket put Okarche back on top by a point at the 45-second mark.

Less than nine seconds later, though, Vanoss regained the lead.

It got worse for Okarche as a jump ball went to Vanoss on the alternating possession.

However, the Lady Wolves traveled with 20 seconds to play, one of 25 turnovers in the game.

“That was a big part of it, too,” Mitchel said. “Being able to turn them over really benefited us.”

Okarche got the ball to Stover in the high post and she soon delivered the game winner.

It capped a night in which she scored 23 points, including eight in the fourth when Okarche outscored Vanoss 18-11.

Jalie Rother was also 6 of 8 from the foul line in the fourth.

She scored eight points. Ellis notched a gamehigh 25 for Vanoss, which beat Arapaho-Butler in Saturday’s consolation championship to also advance to state.

Although Stover provided nearly half the team’s points and much of the heroics at the end, Mitchel said the area title was a team effort.

“We didn’t play our best game, but each person stepped up and did something that ended up making a huge difference in a onepoint game,” she said.

Okarche (23-5) is in state for a second straight year and the third time in four seasons.