By Buck Ringgold
OKLAHOMA CITY - Idabel scored the first eight points and 12 of the first 14 in Saturday night's Class 3A state championship game.
Was the Lady Warriors' opponent, Jones, worried? Not even close.
All of a sudden, that big lead for Idabel early on dissolved as the Lady Longhorns put on a game-turning surge of their own.
Jones reeled off 21 straight points in the first half to take command in Saturday's game, and the Lady Longhorns repeated as 3A state champs with a 65-41 win at State Fair Arena.
"The leadership of my guards (was a big key); they've been here before and playing in the big game, and I think that helped," Jones coach Jenni Holbrook said. "We stayed calm at the beginning; we got down a little bit, and then we had to make some adjustments that seemed to work out for us.
"We knew if we could just keep pounding away that we would have a chance."
Idabel had come into Saturday's title game on a roll. The Lady Warriors had won 24 straight games, and had knocked off 3A No. 1 ranked Lincoln Christian in Friday's semifinal.
That momentum carried over into the early going of Saturday's game. With 6-foot-6 sophomore center Mary Carden dominating down low and scoring eight points, the Lady Warriors ran out to that 12-2 lead.
Jones shook off that slow start and began to assert its will. The Lady Longhorns (24-4) scored eight straight points to end the first quarter, pulling to within two.
Then, junior point guard Boston Berry scored three straight baskets to start the second quarter, putting Jones in front.
"I noticed my shots were falling so I kept taking them, and then defense helped a lot from (junior guards) Zoe (Tucker) and Jaelen (Maples)," Berry said.
Still, the Lady Longhorns continued to compile points.
Sofi Woodson, a 6-2 sophomore post, found Tucker for a basket. Woodson then delivered a baseline jumper. Tucker then capped the pivotal 21-0 run by knocking down a 3-pointer.
And just like that, the 12-2 Jones deficit turned into a 23-12 Lady Longhorn advantage midway through the second quarter.
"Once we got on a roll, we just start going," Tucker said. "We give each other our own energy. ... We'll get as tired as we can be, but we'll hype each other up."
To its credit, Idabel (26-3) was able to hang around. The Lady Warriors got within seven at halftime, 26-19; then closed the gap to five, 27-22, early in the second half.
But Jones' relentless play, especially from its guards, gradually wore Idabel down.
Maples hit two 3's in the third, the latter a step-back trey which pushed the Lady Longhorn lead back into double digits, 35-23.
Jones also ended the third quarter on an 11-3 run to extend the margin to 18, 46-28. The Lady Longhorns didn't let up to start the fourth, scoring the first eight points, punctuated by a 3 from sophomore guard Kasia Hansen.
"We were just pressuring their guards and then trying to get stuff in transition; we knew they looked tired," Holbrook said. "We're like, 'We're not tired,' so just keep running, keep pushing it, and it worked for us."
Holbrook added the Lady Longhorns' non-stop nature stems from the time they've spent on the court and even off of it.
"Nothing has changed for us, no matter if it's on a big stage or a regular-season game or a practice or in the weight room," she said. "Those girls have to bring it every single day; they do not get time off, they do not get reps off, they do not get a possession off, they don't get a drill off and we are on them non-stop, and it pays off when you get to these big games because we try to put them in positions of adversity every single day."
Ironically last summer, Holbrook withdrew her players from a team camp because she didn't feel they were delivering their best effort in a particular scrimmage.
The Lady Longhorns' opponent in that fateful summer scrimmage? None other than Idabel.
Saturday was a much different story, as Jones players, along with a boisterous student section standing right behind the barrier along the sideline, started the celebration in the game's final minutes.
"Defense has been our thing all year long," Holbrook said. "We've held very, very good teams to well below their average. ... Idabel had been averaging in the high 60s, low 70s, so our goal was to hold them under 40 (though the Lady Longhorns fell one point short of that goal)."
Saturday's win also continued a unique trend for the Lady Longhorn program: They still haven't lost in the state tournament.
Jones qualified for its first trip to state in 2020, which was canceled due to COVID-19. Then the next two seasons, the Lady Longhorns won all three games at state to capture gold balls.
And it appears the odds of a three-peat are favorable, as Jones has no seniors on its roster.
"That's the first time Jones has ever gone back-to-back in anything, and I mean there was a lot of people saying we couldn't do it. ... But we pulled through, just like we did last year and it just feels really good," Tucker said.
Both Tucker and Berry finished with 19 points. Tucker was 7-of-9 from the field and made two 3's, and Berry was 6-of-9 from two-point range and 7-of-8 from the foul line.
Idabel had three players in double figures. Carden and freshman Mercades Lopez each had 13, with Carden ending up grabbing nine rebounds, and senior guard Jaylee Lopez scored 11 points.