Three different stories can be told about Red Oak’s three state championships.
It all started 10 years ago, when Red Oak dominated throughout the season en route to a gold ball. The Eagles lost only one game that season, to Bishop McGuinness in double overtime in the Tournament of Champions. They would consistently make state in almost every subsequent year, but 2009 remained the only state championship in program history until 2016.
The 2016 Red Oak squad was loaded with depth, and dominated as the top-ranked squad in Class B, surviving a near-elimination in the state semifinals before winning the state championship game with ease.
The Eagles in 2018 returned to state after falling short in the area tournament in Class A the year before. They moved back down to Class B last season, reaching the state finals and knocking off the No. 1 team in the class that had previously suffered only one loss. Red Oak capped off the thriller with a one point win in double overtime, as its five starting seniors all walked out on top.
“Our 2016 team was offensively really good,” former boys coach Trey Booth said. “They could play an up-tempo and they went out and outscored everybody, where our 2018 championship team, we were offensively limited, but we could grind it with anybody…the ‘09 team could play either way.”
It takes 178 miles to get from Red Oak to State Fair Arena, commonly known as the Big House, and the 2009 Eagles team adopted “178” as their motto in their effort to bring the gold ball home.
The Eagles had previously qualified for state in 1968, 1970, 2006 and 2008. However, not only had they never won a state championship, they never even won a game at the state tournament. The closest they had gotten was a 43-38 loss to Fort Cobb in 1968.
Red Oak had a veteran presence in Jonathan Lowder and Keith Price. The Eagles also had Lane Adams, Red Oak’s all-time leading scorer. Coach Booth called Adams “once-in-a-coach’s-lifetime talent”.
The Eagles also welcomed in another senior in Stuart Sullivan after he had moved in from Pratt, Kan. Some underclassmen in sophomores Jordan Booth, Coach Booth’s son, and Dwight Camp were part of the mix as well.
Coach Booth said the 2009 state championship team probably set the standard at Red Oak in terms of winning and doing the right thing on and off the court.
“There’s some really good people in that group,” he said. “We got husbands and dads and community leaders in that group that they’re very successful in life. That’s the most important thing.”
The first state championship team at Red Oak lost only one game the whole season.
However, the Eagles also had something off the court to attend to.
Jonathan Lowder lost his father, Bill Lowder, the girls coach at Clayton, the day after the elder Lowder saw Red Oak play in the regional championship. The team rallied together after the loss, becoming closer as a unit.
“Right after it happened, it seemed like less than 30 minutes that Coach Booth arrived at our house and stayed there for quite a while and tried to comfort us, knowing it was going to be a tough week,” Jonathan Lowder said.
Jonathan Lowder said Coach Booth told him it was a difficult time and to show up when he could. Jonathan Lowder believes the only practice he missed was the day of his father’s funeral.
“For me, it was a place to get away from everything a little bit by still going to practice and being around the guys,” he said. “…Being the son of a coach, my dad coached for a long time, I kind of knew what he would want. I knew he would want me to still be there practicing and getting better.”
He said both Price and himself had wrist injuries and both wore a brace with tape over it. He said he wrote, “Rest in Peace, Dad,” on his, while Price wrote, “Rest in Peace, Coach Lowder” on his.
Red Oak met up with Medford in the first round of the 2009 Class B state tournament. Adams did miss some shots early on in the game, so other members of the Eagles squad stepped up. Red Oak totaled 46 points in the first half. Adams turned to attacking the basket more, as the then-Missouri State University commit scored 21 points during the victory. Sullivan led the way with 29, and Camp posted 13 for Red Oak’s first-ever state tournament win.
By the time the state semifinal at the Big House against Big Pasture had come into play, the Eagles had “178” on warm-up shirts, according to a March 7, 2009 article from Newsok.com. Jonathan Lowder said the “178” was Coach Booth’s idea.
“After we won state, they wanted something to put on the back, so we actually put a number zero on the back, because we felt like we had achieved everything we wanted out of 178,” Jonathan Lowder said.
Coach Booth said there’s nothing quite like the Big House, saying the small school weekend is a special atmosphere and camaraderie. He grew up attending the Big House, remembering when he went with his uncle, John Noah, to the venue.
“I’ve been to literally 100 basketball games at the Big House before I got to coach in one” he said.
The first game he coached in the Big House resulted in the Eagles storming away with a 12-0 run towards the end of the first quarter to put themselves in control of a 95-62 runaway.
Adams remembers a player from Big Pasture approached him just before the opening tip.
“He’s like, ‘We’re going to get up and down with y’all in this game,” Adams said. “I told him, I was like, ‘If you try to run with us, this game is going to be over at halftime.’”
Adams totaled 32 points after 10 in each of the first three quarters, and had 10 boards for a double-double. Camp scored 18, while Jordan Booth tallied 12.
The Eagles waited for their opponent, which turned out to be Garber after a 57-48 win against Stringtown.
The game had been tied in the first half, but Red Oak went on a 10-0 run, with Jonathan Lowder shining in the midst of the run. He sank two of Red Oak’s five shots from downtown and the Eagles pulled ahead by double digits. Jonathan Lowder finished with six points, all of which came from a pair of 3-pointers.
He recalled that he didn’t shoot the ball well after his father’s passing, both in the area tournament or the first two games of the state tournament.
“Coach Booth just kept telling me, ‘You got to shoot it when you’re open, it’s going to fall, just have confidence,’” he said.
Adams had another double-double when he led Red Oak with both 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Jordan Booth notched 14.
The Wolverines would eventually get their happy ending with a state championship in Class A in 2010, but the Eagles completed their dream season with a 52-41 win.
“There was a lot of emotion, a lot of tears,” Adams said. “We felt like that was harder than the baseball ones.”
Red Oak had won three state championships in softball, and two state titles in baseball before the first title coming in basketball.
Booth said in a text that the 2009 team showed that Red Oak could be champions in both sports.
“Being that group to set the bar, set the standard, means a lot,” Adams said. “It’s kind of leaving your fingerprints on something special, not just on the field and on the court, but off of it as well.”
Red Oak did return to the Class B state championship in 2010, thanks to Camp’s clutch shooting. His shot with six seconds to play in the state quarterfinals at Carl Albert lifted the Eagles to a 60-59 win against Timberlake. He further added to his state tournament legend with a game-winner with 9.4 seconds remaining. Red Oak had a chance to defend its gold ball thanks to a 47-46 win in the semifinal against Hammon.
However, Roff denied Red Oak a repeat as the Eagles fell, 51-44, in the state title game.
“That was a special group to be able to come back and win the silver one the next year,” Coach Booth said.
The Eagles were still a main fixture in the Class B state tournament after the loss to Roff, qualifying every year except 2012. However, they would not make it to Championship Saturday in any of the four years. Red Oak made the semifinals twice during the four appearances. The closest the Eagles got was a 69-62 loss against Coyle in the 2013 state semifinals.
Red Oak was the No. 3 ranked team in 2015, but had just missed out on the semifinals, falling short to No. 4 Forgan, 55-52.
The Eagles were about to welcome a player into the fold that would change the landscape and give them an added boost.
Brad Davis spent three seasons starring at Quinton, where he averaged 17.8 points per game in three seasons with the Savages, according to Maxpreps.com.
Despite being a standout there, Quinton has only qualified for the state tournament one time in school history. The Savages lost, 63-59, to the eventual state champion Coyle in the 2003 Class A quarterfinal.
Davis said he started the school year at Quinton before making the move to Red Oak. It did not take long for Davis to fit in at Red Oak.
“The more I got around Brad, I just realized how special he was as far as his motor,” Coach Booth said. “He played as hard as any kid that I ever had the pleasure to coach. He was just relentless on both ends.”
Davis said depth was a big reason why the Eagles were as good as they were.
Davis, Grayson Nix, Jace Blyalock, Colt Browne and Dewayne Grogan made up the starting five. Chance Long, Brendan Patten, Brett Deatherage, Chase Butcher and Lane Grogan contributed to Red Oak’s depth.
“Our second five guys could have been ranked in Class B, probably top 10,” Davis said.
The Eagles would only lose twice, never letting go of that top spot in Class B. Once they got to the playoffs, they rolled through it. Red Oak squared off against No. 8 Eagletown for the Class B Area IV championship at Quinton, rolling to a 98-48 win and into the state dance. Nix led the way with 31, while Davis scored 19. Lane Grogan had 12 in the area championship.
Red Oak began the state tournament at Mustang against No. 10 Duke, dispatching the Tigers by a 78-34 and blowing out teams just as it had done all season long.
Players such as Davis and Nix were about to get their first taste of the Big House the next day, facing off against No. 3 Kinta in a matchup of the Eagles.
“When I first stepped there on the court, I just kept looking around,” Davis said. “I kept having to stop and take a step back for a second and look that I was truly in the Big House because I was taken to the Big House for many years in a row before that getting to watch the games and dreaming of being out there.
“It was (a) pretty unreal feeling getting to stand on that court that I always dreamed about being on,” he continued.
Red Oak would be playing a Kinta team which had already ran into a close call in the Area tournament at Catoosa.
It dropped a 34-31 loss against No. 5 LeFlore in the area championship, and had its backs against the wall in the consolation final. It was thanks to Justin Pile, who tipped the ball in at the last second that propelled Kinta to a 59-58 win.
Kinta almost did not make it to the state semifinals against Red Oak. It led Boise City by six with 17 seconds remaining on the clock. Samuel Alvarado got a 3-pointer, stole the ball, and Jaedon Whitfield had a 3-point play, and the game was knotted, 52-52.
The game-winner had come from a Pile free throw. The Wildcats went to the foul line with two seconds to go, but could not make the front end of a one-and-one, or put the ball back in.
Those two escape wins pitted Kinta against Red Oak, but the latter team was not going blow the former team out of the water in the semifinals.
In fact, if anybody looked like if it was going to run away with things, it was Kinta which led Red Oak, 43-32, entering the final quarter. The team which had barely made it to the state semifinals appeared to be heading to championship Saturday.
That was until Davis dashed Kinta’s dreams.
He drained a three from the left wing and had a pair of layups before knocking down a trey despite a hand being in his face. It was a 54-51 score, and Red Oak tied it, 57-57, with 1:14 to go.
“We could’ve done a better job maybe doubling at times, but he’s a shooter,” Kinta coach Jim Jenson said. “When he’s on like he was on, the best thing you can do is keep the ball out of his hands. We were not able to keep the ball out of his hands.”
Davis said he worked for games like those his entire life. He described himself as a gym rat his entire time at Quinton. Davis commended Kinta for scouting Red Oak and its game plan, but said Red Oak was not losing, and he was going to make shots, no matter how many defenders were on him.
It was a Davis layup that put Red Oak out in front, and Deatherage clinched the game with a free throw. Davis had scored 19 points in the quarter, 27 total. Red Oak outscored Kinta, 30-15, in the final quarter for a 62-58 win.
“I remember when we went to eat and that’s when I think it finally set in to all of us,” Nix said. “We all looked at each other, and we were like, ‘Did we really just win that game? Did that really just happen?’”
There’d be no drama the next day, against No. 2 Leedey, though. The Bison scored the first five points, but the Eagles responded with a 12-0 run. Red Oak led, 34-18, at halftime and 50-33 after three.
“We did things that were just amazing that year, and we had no doubt that we were going to win the state championship,” Davis said. “Obviously, in the Kinta game, there was some doubts going into the fourth quarter, but I think we all knew that somehow, we were going to find a way.”
The buzzer sounded and the Eagles dog piled after a 63-42 triumph. Nix led the way with 16 points and seven rebounds, while Davis scored 14 points, garnering six rebounds and six assists.
“We expected Brad to play at a high level, but the level that he played at in that state tournament, where we struggled in the semifinals and he put us on his back, in Red Oak basketball history, he’s forever etched as one of the all time greats,” Coach Booth said.
Nix found his junior year to be one of his favorite years, despite the fact that Red Oak had lost to New Lima, 49-48, in the Class A Area consolation final at Quinton.
“I think when we first heard about it, we were a little upset just because we had just won B and we knew B was going to be open again my junior year,” he said. “I think it took us a little bit to come down and be like, ‘Okay, you know what? We’re going to have to do this anyway and we’re going to have to try to get it done in A.’”
Nix said the Red Oak team his junior year one of his favorite teams ever because of how hard they worked. He said the Eagles grinded it out and got close when people didn’t think they’d do anything.
Red Oak moved back down to Class B during his senior season, and the Eagles had a starting lineup full of seniors. There was Nix, Deatherage and Will Edington, while Red Oak had some transfers in recent memory work its way into the starting lineup.
Jacob Armstrong had come over from Gans for the 2016-2017 season, while Cash Balentine had transferred from Wister.
The team started 5-0 before losing its first game to Wright City, the eventual state champion in Class 2A. Red Oak won the boys gold bracket at the Eastern Oklahoma State College Invitational, but fell to eventual champion Hartshorne in the semifinals of the Wilburton Tournament.
Nix had some individual accomplishments in Red Oak’s journey to the state championship. He was named the MVP of the Eastern Tournament, posting 32 points in the Dec. 9 championship game against Smithville.
He scored the 2,000th point of his career exactly one month later. Nix needed to get 14 in Red Oak’s home game against Wister, and he finished with 14 points exactly as the Eagles rolled, 94-52.
“He was a tough matchup problem for most people because he was one of those kids that has a really good knack at getting to the rim,” Coach Booth said. “Those other guys bought in to knowing that was one of our strengths, and they were really good at helping him come off some screens and make some things happen.”
Red Oak entered the playoffs as the No. 2 ranked team in Class B, making it to the area championship unscathed. The Eagles matched up against Paden, with the winner going to state and the loser getting a second chance in the consolation final.
The Pirates held multiple leads on Red Oak, such as a 23-22 advantage at halftime, but if Red Oak wanted to avoid the consolation final, it would have some work to do.
Armstrong had the ability to shoot threes, and his shooting got the rally going for the Eagles, who trailed, 32-24, at one point in the second half. His 3-pointers turned a 32-24 deficit into a 32-30 deficit.
Nix tied it twice, first at 32, then at 34. He was fouled twice on a basket, but could not complete the 3-point play.
Armstrong and Nix combined for 38 of Red Oak’s 39 points, with a free throw from Edington being the other point. The Eagles held off the Pirates to advance to state.
Red Oak twice looked to its past once it got to the state tournament. It had rematches with Kinta and Leedey. However, there’d be no fourth quarter excitement in the state quarterfinals, as Red Oak began the game on an 8-0 run at Southern Nazarene University and coasted to a wire-to-wire 58-37 win against Kinta to return to the Big House.
The semifinal game with Leedey was almost the exact same score as the 2016 state championship. The Eagles bested the Bison, 62-41, in 2018 after winning, 63-42, two years prior.
The Eagles were a win away from a second gold ball in three years, but a win on Championship Saturday would have to come against a team that had only one previous loss: Earlsboro.
Red Oak was ranked No. 2. Earlsboro was ranked No. 1. The Wildcats had survived a 48-46 game against Whitesboro and took down defending champion Calumet to set up what would be a game for the ages.
After both teams played to overtime, they again traded buckets in the extra period.
Red Oak got the ball with time winding down. Multiple Earlsboro defenders got on Nix, who turned and got a shot off, which went in for a 47-46 lead.
“People were showing me pictures and videos and I didn’t realize there was that many people on me,” Nix said. “When I first shot it, I thought I had single coverage.”
Nix sprinted down the floor immediately after his shot.
“I was shocked at how close were to winning it,” he said, thinking there was more time on the clock.
The Wildcats got a shot off before the buzzer, but Red Oak survived for the title.
“I always tell people that as soon as you win it, it’s not a feeling of joy,” Nix said. “It’s more a feeling of relief.”
Coach Booth also went out a winner, stepping down as the boys coach after Red Oak had won its third gold ball.
“In the final, I thought they played as well to their ability as any team that we have had,” he said.
Contact Corey Stolzenbach at firstname.lastname@example.org