By Matt Goisman
Facing the larger, stronger Antlers Lady Cats, the Wilburton Lady Diggers managed just 10 baskets all night Wednesday.
Instead, Wilburton got it done with free throws.
The Lady Diggers shot 17-for-22 from the foul line, helping them beat the Lady Cats, 48-40, in Wednesday’s semifinal at the Hartshorne Pick & Shovel Classic at Taylor Gymnasium.
“We have six goals in both of our gyms, and we spend 18 to 24 minutes a day working on free throws,” Wilburton coach Justin Lowder said.
“Of course, there’s a lot of difference between pressure free throws and shooting them in practice.”
Wilburton advanced to the championship with the win. With the other girls’ semifinal postponed due to inclement weather, tournament coordinators couldn’t say whether the championship would take place Saturday or next week.
The Lady Diggers went up 21-11 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Sabrina Stanford and Michie Sokolosky in the second quarter, but the Lady Cats pulled back to within four on a layup-free-throw combination by Kendie Bryant and a 3-pointer by JaeLeigh Holder. Wilburton responded with a 7-0 run, with all 7 points coming at the foul line.
Brooke Saxon sank the first two free throws in that run, then Sam Vanderburg sank the next five to make it 28-17 Lady Diggers. Vanderburg’s last three came when she was fouled throwing up a 3-point shot from the halfcourt line as the first half expired.
“We fouled way too much, and Wilburton, they really have some good players,” Antlers coach Austin Lindly said. “They can shoot it, and they take advantage.
“Not moving our feet, not having our hands up at certain times, just getting beat at positions, and plus, the mental things. It’s things that you don’t have to do, even if you’re out of position. You still don’t have to reach, and we have to get to where we have to recognize when we’re out of position rather than making the situation worse.”
Vanderburg led the Lady Diggers with 12 points. She converted seven of eight attempted free throws.
“I try to focus on my breathing,” Vanderburg said of her free throws. “It keeps me calm and I’m able to just do my motion.”
Antlers threatened Wilburton’s lead throughout the second half, but free throws kept allowing Wilburton to survive an Antlers run, then extend the lead. A 3-pointer by Macy Smith finished a 9-0 Antlers run that cut the lead to 30-28, but Sydnee Brunk sank a free throw for Wilburton, then Saxon drained a 3-pointer off a give-and-go with Brunk.
After two free throws by Antlers forward Meagan Wilbourn, Brunk drew a foul while draining a 3-pointer, then sank the free throw to make it 38-30 after three quarters.
Brunk scored 5 points, all in the third. Saxon, a starter who usually took charge of Wilburton’s offense while on the court, scored 11.
“We were reversing the ball a lot and cutting and getting open,” Saxon said. “Usually when they put a man on me, I can dribble in.”
Saxon added that Wilburton’s half-court press defense, on which the team works “every day,” seemed the most effective against Antlers’ post-based offense.
Antlers again pulled to within 4 in the fourth, a 3-pointer from Cheyanne Simpson making it 42-38 Wilburton. But with the Lady Diggers trying to kill as much clock time as they could on each possession, the Lady Cats had to start putting Lady Diggers on the line.
Stanford and Christine Sockey sank four of six free throws to push the lead back to 46-38. That 8-point lead held up to the end of the game.
Antlers’ only leads came in the first quarter, with a layup by Emma Branton and a 3-pointer by Bryant putting the Lady Cats up 5-0. Saxon put back an offensive rebound to get the Lady Diggers on the board, but Branton’s layup pushed the lead back to 7-2.
Wilburton tied it on a layup by Saxon and a 3-pointer by Stanford, then went up 8-7 on a free throw by Sokolosky. Antlers held brief 1-point leads late in the first and early in the second, but Wilburton took the lead for good on two free throws from Vanderburg that made it 12-11 Wilburton.
“We missed a lot of shots early, but we stayed with it and finally started to knock some down, and that opened it up for us to be able to make some shots inside, too,” Lowder said.
“It’s just our third game of the year. We still have lots of room for improvement, but I’m proud of how hard the girls are working.”
With the win, Wilburton improved to 3-0. Antlers fell to 1-1.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.