STERLING — A low-scoring first quarter doomed Sterling early, as the Lady Tigers never recovered and dropped a disappointing 50-39 Area Tournament game to Okeene.
The loss eliminated Sterling from playoff contention, which ended the season with a 22-7 record.
“It was definitely a winnable game, but we started cold. After that, it was pretty even, but we had too big of a deficit,” Lady Tiger head coach Jennifer Garner said.
Sterling scored only three points in the first quarter, while Okeene tallied 10 and later led 25-13 at intermission. The Lady Tigers kept pace with Okeene the rest of the game, particularly in the fourth quarter, when Sterling scored 16 points.
“Defensively, we did enough to keep us is in the game,” Garner said. “But in the fourth quarter, we had to start fouling to stop the clock.”
As a result, Okeene connected on nine free throws in the final two minutes to seal the win. Okeene only scored two baskets in the final eight minutes and missed eight other free=throw attempts.
Madison Schmidt was Okeene’s top scorer with 16 points.
Sterling was led in scoring by Ashlyn Clift with 10 points, followed by senior Emma Nunley and Kinley Mansel with eight.
Sterling won three regional tournament games to advance to the Area Tournament. A district tournament loss to Velma-Alma left the Lady Tigers with one loss in the double-elimination playoff format, which meant they could not lose again during the regional or Area tournaments.
“We picked a bad game to have one of our worst shooting nights,” the coach said. “Things get tougher in Area, but I thought it was winnable. If we play like we could, maybe it would have been a different story. It would have been hard.”
However, Garner had positive thoughts about the season overall.
“Any time you win over 20 games, it’s a good season,” she said.
At one point, Sterling won seven consecutive games late in the season.
The Lady Tigers will lose Nunley to graduation. Nunley averaged about 20 points a game and was honored this season for scoring her 1,000th point in her Sterling career, a rare feat at the high school level. The all-star senior said she is interested in playing collegiate basketball but has not announced where she will attend.
“She will truly be missed. She’s one of those types of players you can’t replace,” Garner said. “But I was proud of the girls, because they proved they could step up and play without her when she got into foul trouble.”