Jan. 24—It went from a rout to a nail-biter and a mad dash to a mirror and a quiet space for one Hilldale Hornet, which in 18 seconds of elapsed clock time only intensified what the game had become.
But Jax Kerr, Hilldale's 6-8 sophomore, bounced back from a gouge in the eye that happened with 42 seconds to play. He re-entered with 24.2 seconds left and settled his team with a rebound of a missed free throw by Fort Gibson's Hunter Branch at that spot on the clock, and the Hornets dodged a second-half rally by the Tigers to win 54-49 on Tuesday at the Hilldale Event Center.
With his team up 52-48, Kerr was battling for a rebound when he got poked under the Tigers' basket. A contact lens became lodged under his eyelid. No remedy occurred during the timeout, and the game resumed without him.
"I went to the locker room and was able to get it out in there, and I ran back in here and luckily was able to finish," Kerr said.
He started pretty good too.
Kerr, who had 16 points and 17 rebounds in the contest, had nine and seven during a surge that put Hilldale up 28-8 early in the second quarter. That advantage blew up, though. Fort Gibson made it a two-point game at 35-33 following a 12-0 run in the first four minutes of the third quarter orchestrated mostly by the shooting of Branch and Karl Garrett.
The Hornets, now 8-9, got it back to a 10-point cushion at 47-37 going to the fourth, but struggled in the final stanza with seven turnovers and just one field goal, a basket by Mason Forhan midway through the period for a 49-41 advantage.
The Tigers had their chances but were 5-of-16 in the final eight minutes. Not as horrific as the 3-of-19 first quarter, but enough to keep them from making a big enough push.
"We let them get back in," said Kerr. "We cover a little better when we needed to, we'd been fine, but either way it's a great team win."
At the time they had the 20-point lead, the Hornets had out-rebounded Fort Gibson 19-8 and obviously, Kerr was a big part of that.
"He's got a chance to be a really special player if he gets stronger and puts that with other parts of his game," said Hilldale coach Gary Hendrix, who got his first win at Hilldale against his former team after coming out on the short end at Fort Gibson in a 43-41 game just prior to the Christmas break.
"We didn't run our offense very well, took some poor shots, and they got back in the game. We turned the ball over way too much but in the end we managed to overcome. Our guys need to be in those situations to learn how to handle that kind of pressure and we really haven't had many of those."
Eric Virgil had 13 points and the senior's four free throws in the final eight minutes were critical.
"He's starting to do the things I want out of a point guard," Hendrix said of the career record-setting running back from football who is in his first season starting at the point. "And that's the reason it's taking him this long. We haven't had that much time together with him in that spot."
Blane Scott had 16 points to lead Fort Gibson — 4-12 and losers of three straight since knocking off still-5A No. 3 Tulsa Hale last week — and Garrett added 10.
Girls: Fort Gibson 53, Hilldale 24
Neither team came out of the locker room to get loose on the floor after the half.
Even as his team was up 24-12, Fort Gibson coach Scott Lowe wasn't a happy man.
Hilldale had nine turnovers in the first quarter and five in their first six possessions to start the game, but Lowe wasn't seeing the outpouring of offense capitalizing on that. The Lady Tigers (11-5) were 5-of-18 in the first quarter and at the half were still under 30 percent (29.4, on 10-of-34).
They were 8-of-12 in the third and outscored the Lady Hornets (7-10) 22-2 to lead 46-14. Sophomore post Laynee Stanley had eight of her 15 points in the quarter and finished the game with 15 points and eight rebounds.
"We missed a lot of shots and truly it's not a function of us being bad shooters. Sometimes we all get in the habit of hunting shots and when you do that you're not executing and playing connected and together," said Lowe. "The second half there was more of an intentional effort to run our stuff and not force it. When we do that we're pretty good. It's finding the balance between playing super aggressive and doing our thing."
And Stanley, he said, is fitting into that in her first year in the program as a post player with a huge upside.
"Sometimes she can be a wild mustang, but sometimes you've got to let that mustang run a little bit. Part of that is on me, part is her feeling the way through the process and what she can do both inside and outside the offense," Lowe said.
"She's seeing she's got more facets to her game."
Adds Stanley: "I'm starting to get way more comfortable with the players and game style we play here compared to where I was before (Kansas High), so I think we're starting to click."
Linzi Foutch and Kenzie Snell had eight points each for Fort Gibson. Foutch was also a presence on the boards with seven and a blocked shot.
For Hilldale, Grace Nail was tops with seven points.
Hilldale is at home on Friday against Vinita and Fort Gibson plays host to No. 9 Wagoner, with the girls contest a rematch of Wagoner's overtime win in the Lincoln Christian Tournament. The Lady Tigers, who have won six straight since that setback, are eight spots behind the Bulldogs at 17th in the rankings. Wagoner has won seven consecutive games.