Return of the Meck
During its 10-game win streak entering Saturday night’s regional championship, Inola averaged 65 points, which included 76 and 87 in its two previous playoff games.
That didn’t hold up against the Kingfisher Yellowjackets.
KHS won a regional for the sixth straight year as it shut down the No. 17 Longhorns 41-23 at Cleveland High School.
The game didn’t just hold significance in that it put the Jackets within one win of state.
It also saw senior Maddox Mecklenburg make his return to the court a month after tearing his ACL.
Although he played limited minutes, his presence was felt.
“He’s worked really hard to get out there,” said KHS coach Jared Reese. “And I think it was a big emotional boost for his best friends to see him on the court with them again.”
The victory propelled Mecklenburg and his topranked KHS teammates into this Friday night’s area title game.
They’ll gun for their seventh consecutive trip to the 4A state tournament at 7:30 p.m. against No. 8 North Rock Creek.
Inola never could crack Kingfisher’s defense as the Longhorns had just three field goals in the first half and eight for the game.
Still, KHS only led 15-9 at halftime as the Jackets themselves were still putting the pieces together to solve the Longhorns’ zone.
“They were really athletic,” said coach Jared Reese as his team moved to 22-3. “But we also weren’t knocking down our shots, which contributed to keeping them in it.”
The Jackets were just 7 of 21 in the first half and made only 1 of 7 3-point attempts.
Kingfisher in the second half attacked the middle of that Longhorn zone.
Xavier Ridenour floated to a spot and twice Cash Slezickey threaded passes to him in the crowded lane, leading to buckets.
Although Kingfisher was finding more offense, so was Inola and the Longhorns were able to hang within striking distance until late in the third quarter.
That’s when Slezickey ended one long possession with a 3-pointer and then knocked down a shot in the lane as time was about to expire.
The 5-0 spurt allowed KHS to open a 28-17 lead that it continued to build on into the fourth.
Once the Longhorns were forced into a man-toman, Kingfisher picked it apart.
Kitchens scored twice in the paint off of sets while Slezickey and Ridenour had driving buckets.
Kingfisher made all four of its field-goal attempts in the final quarter.
Ridenour finished his night with 14 points.Kitchens scored 12 and also grabbed 11 rebounds.
Slezickey had all seven of his points in the second half.
He also led the team with six assists.
“Cash was big for us on both ends of the floor,” Reese said.
The Jackets shot 46 percent overall including 64 percent in the second half.
Inola made just 22 percent of its shots and got limited second opportunities with just four offensive boards.
KHS won the rebound battle 29-18. Jud Birdwell had six boards for the Jackets.
“That’s still a really good team,” Reese said. “They’re even better than I thought going into the game and we’d already seen them in person once before.”
Trevor Groff scored seven points off the bench to lead Inola, which also advances to area, but in the consolation bracket.
The game also marked the return of Maddox Mecklenburg.
The senior tore his ACL on Jan. 21, but opted against surgery earlier this month.
Mecklenburg entered the game with just under 28 seconds left in the first quarter as Inola was at the foul line.
The Jackets worked down the clock and Mecklenburg was fed the ball as he flashed out of the lane.
He then found Jax Sternberger underneath for an assist and a 10-3 Jacket lead.
Mecklenburg stayed on the court to start the second quarter, one that saw Inola turn it over on its first possession.