GIRLS BASKETBALL: No. 6 Verdigris falls to No. 1 Lincoln Christian in 4A semifinals
Mar. 11—YUKON — The energy surrounding the Verdigris bench was so palpable, coach Mike Buntin jumped with a burst of adrenaline.
His excitement wasn't unfounded, of course.
His sixth-ranked Lady Cardinals were in the midst of a 13-4 run that cut their deficit from 17 points to eight with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter, and 3-point specialist Ciara Daniel had the ball with a wide-open look from the right corner.
Like it did in the quarterfinals two days earlier, Verdigris was coming back from the brink of elimination.
However, the senior seemingly misinterpreted her coach's sudden movement for discouragement.
Thinking Buntin wanted to wait for the final shot of the period, Daniel forewent the opportunity and quickly passed the ball back out to Morgan Borgstadt.
The miscommunication proved costly as the possession ended with a turnover, and Lincoln Christian freshman Maddi Stewart hit a left-corner 3 at the buzzer to push the lead back to double digits going into the fourth.
That served as the dagger to the Lady Cardinals' comeback hopes, for the shot sparked an 8-0 run that allowed the No. 1 Lady Bulldogs to pull away for a 49-40 victory in the Class 4A state semifinals Friday afternoon at Yukon High School.
Lincoln Christian (27-1) advanced to play No. 3 Bethany in the state championship game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday inside Jim Norick Arena at the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds while Verdigris finished the season at 22-7.
"She probably saw me jump up because I was thinking she was going to step up and hit it like she's done numerous times," Buntin said. "And our rule has been with under a minute, let's try to get one shot so a situation like that doesn't happen where we go down and turn it over or miss a shot, and they come down and hit a big shot. But when one of your best shooters has a wide-open look in the corner, you go ahead and pull it.
"I think she probably wishes she would have, but that's just part of the game."
Prior to that sequence, the Lady Cardinals trailed 34-17 early in the second half before Brynlee Brown and Kate Wiginton ignited the rally with a running floater and a pair of free throws, respectively.
Then the 3-pointers started falling.
Wiginton and Morgan Borgstadt alternated successful attempts from distance, and the former soon made it a 38-30 spread at the 1:30 mark with her third 3-ball.
Although the run ended there, Wiginton didn't stop shooting. The sophomore went on to hit two more shots from deep, tallying five of the team's six 3-pointers while finishing with a team-high 19 points and three rebounds.
With the impending graduation of Borgstadt and Daniel, who averaged a combined 19.4 points per game, Buntin said Wiginton is likely to become the primary scoring option starting next season. She contributed 8.5 ppg this year, making a team-best 46 3-pointers.
Daniel and Borgstadt were a distance second and third in that category with 29 and 26, respectively.
"Losing Morgan and Ciara, that's a lot of offense," Buntin said. "Those are two really big losses, and Kate's going to have to shoulder a lot of that responsibility. She's going to have to become that player Morgan has become for us and be the focal point and be able to do a lot of things off screens and off the dribble. I think four of her shots came off a double-down screen where we were using Morgan as a back-door cut trying to freeze the defense, and she stepped up and hit them."
Borgstadt capped her career as a Lady Cardinal with 1,513 points, registering nine points and six rebounds against Lincoln Christian before fouling out with 0:29 remaining in the game.
It was an emotional sendoff for the senior, who proudly walked off the court to a standing ovation from Verdigris fans. She never averaged less than 10 points per game through her four seasons under Buntin.
The University of Tennessee at Martin signee averaged just under 15 ppg for her career, her best season coming in 2021-22 when she averaged 19.3 ppg. She finished her 2022-23 campaign at 15.7 ppg.
"It was a tough moment," Buntin said of watching Borgstadt exit the court for the final time as a Lady Cardinal. "Morgan is one of those special players. She's been our best player for the past four years, but with her sister being in the program, Morgan has always been around ... it's a special relationship."
Verdigris got a healthy dose of the Lady Bulldogs' 5-foot-11 sophomore Audrey Hopkins early and often, for she nearly had a double-double at the end of the first quarter on her way to a 22-point, 11-rebound outing.
The Lady Cardinals trailed by one at 7-6 early in the first quarter after consecutive baskets from Borgstadt and Adalyn Waters, but Hopkins responded with six-consecutive points as part of a 10-0 run. She went into halftime with 14 points and nine rebounds, and though she scored six more in the third, she didn't hit double digits on the boards until the fourth period.
"The Hopkins girl, we didn't really have an answer for her, especially once Morgan got in foul trouble because she was the one who was going to guard her all night," Buntin said. "Her size, her strength and her skill level — she's really good inside and outside. We just didn't have anyone else who could match up with her."
Stewart had a double-double as well for Lincoln Christian, notching 12 points and 10 rebounds. In addition to her comeback-killing buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter, Stewart capped a 9-2 run that concluded the first half and gave the Lady Bulldogs a comfortable 30-15 halftime advantage.
She is the daughter of Lincoln Christian coach Melody Stewart — a Claremore High School alum — and Buntin said that is obvious in how well she plays.
"She does all the little things that team needs to be successful and probably doesn't get enough credit for what she does," Buntin said of the freshman, "whether it's setting a back screen, handling the ball or making good passes. Any time there was a loose ball, she went and got it. She had a couple of big steals late. Morgan's driving, and it's looking like we're getting ready to go score and make a bigger dent into the lead, and there she is — deflection here and a deflection there.
"Those are the types of kids it takes to win championships."
LINCOLN CHRISTIAN 49, VERDIGRIS 40
VERDIGRIS — Kate Wiginton 19, Borgstadt 9, Brown 6, Young 2, Waters 2, Daniel 2.
LINCOLN CHRISTIAN — Audrey Hopkins 22, Maddi Stewart 12, Brueggemann 7, Roberts 5, Atkinson 3.
3-pointers: VERDIGRIS (6) — Wiginton 5, Borgstadt 1. LINCOLN CHRISTIAN (6) — Hopkins 2, Brueggemann 1, Stewart 1, Atkinson 1, Roberts 1.
Free throws: Verdigris 4-7, Lincoln Christian 3-5
Rebounds: VERDIGRIS (23) — Borgstadt 6, Brown 3, Daniels 3, Wiginton 3, Team 3, G. Waters 2, Daniel 1, Young 1, A. Waters 1. LINCOLN CHRISTIAN (36) — Hopkins 11, Stewart 10, Brueggemann 5, Team 4, Roberts 3, Rea 1, Faulkner 1, Atkinson 1.
Turnovers: Verdigris 11, Lincoln Christian 11.