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February 22, 2023 - 00:00
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Harris helps lead Okarche to regional championship

  • OK, PK!
    OKARCHE’S P.K. Harris delivers a pass during his team’s win over Velma-Alma in last Saturday’s regional title game. Harris scored a game-high 21 points. [Photo by Russell Stitt/www.]
  • OK, PK!
    OKARCHE’S Easton Roby (33) and Wyatt Pinkerton (20) guard Velma-Alma’s Crue Garrett during the Warriors’ win last weekend. [Photo by Russell Stitt/]

Aaron West watched his share of game film on Velma-Alma and had seen enough to be wary of the two-loss Comets.

What stood out other than Velma-Alma having all the pieces of a dangerously good team were a couple of weapons that kept him up especially late at night.

“I spent a lot of time wondering whether I should put in some kind of defense to take away what they’ve been doing,” said the Okarche head coach.

“Or just do what we do.”

Okarche did what it does.

It proved to be the right move.

The fifth-ranked Warriors downed No. 12 Velma- Alma 81-61 at home Saturday in a Class A regional championship game.

The win pits Okarche (25-2) against No. 3 Vanoss (22-3) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Shawnee High School in an area championship game.

The winner will advance to state while the loser will play again Saturday night for that opportunity.

It appeared what Okarche was doing would run Velma-Alma out of the gym before the end of the first quarter.

The Warriors - using their relentless pressure and constantly pushing the pace - scored 24 points in the game’s first five minutes and led 27-12 on Wyatt Pinkerton’s 3-pointer at 2:25 of the first quarter.

That’s when the Comets started to find their legs…and Okarche shots temporarily stopped finding their mark.

“We go through phases like that in just about every game,” West said.

This phase saw the Comets close the first quarter on an 8-1 run.

It continued well into the second period.

The Comets got two buckets on one trip down the floor and took a 35-31 lead with 4:15 left in the half. That capped a 23-4 run by the visitors.

“It hurt that I had taken out P.K. for part of that stretch,” West recalled. “Because he was really playing well.”

The “P.K.” West referenced was the team’s lone senior, P.K. Harris.

He ended Velma Alma’s run with a bucket on the other end while being fouled. Harris missed the free throw, but less than a minute later, replicated the feat.

This time Harris knocked down the free shot to give the Warriors a 36-35 lead.

Those buckets kickstarted a 12-3 spurt to close the half and Okarche never trailed again.

Harris continued to be a menace in the third and was one of five different Warriors to have at least one field goal as they extended their lead to 12 points.

“We got them out of their comfort zone,” West said. “They like to be more methodical and run a called play every time, but we were able to get them up and down the court.” The Comets did manage to shoot 54 percent, but also had 25 turnovers, which led to 27 Okarche points. “If they get a couple of buckets, it gets them in that rhythm of going up and down,” West said. “And that’s what we were able to get them to do.” The Comets were led by Alex Wilkerson’s 14 points, but he had just four in the second half before fouling out. Jackson Lohrer scored 10 points, but also had eight turnovers. Crue Garrett, Velma-Alma’s point guard who had been a menace in the weeks leading up to the game, was held to nine points. Meanwhile, Harris led all scorers with 21 points, but was just one of five Okarche players to score in double figures. Freshman Jett Mueggenborg knocked in 18 points to go with six rebounds and five assists. Hunter Mueggenborg notched a game-high seven assists while also scoring 11 points.

Pinkerton and Easton Roby scored 13 apiece.

The latter pulled down eight boards.

The Warriors did take the air out of the ball in the fourth quarter.

After taking 43 shots in the first half, Okarche attempted just 16 in the second.

But the Warriors made 12 of them (75 percent) and also made 12 of 17 free throws to keep pulling away from the Comets.

Okarche enters the area tournament with an 11game win streak.

The Warriors are looking for their first trip to state since 2019 and their first with West as their head coach.

“I know it’s not going to be easy,” West said. “But I really like this group and I’d love for them to get a chance to see what they can do if they get there.”