THE MOTHER ROAD CLASSIC: Brown's late free throws seal win over Tecumseh, trip to final

Jan. 7—VERDIGRIS — No matter how many tries it took, Brynlee Brown was not going to let her Lady Cardinal teammates down.

The 5-foot-8 junior visited the free-throw line three times within the final 34 seconds, missing the back end of consecutive one-and-one opportunities before finally hitting both shots on her final attempt.

Her first free shot gave Verdigris a three-point lead, and Morgan Borgstadt forced a crucial jump ball off the ensuing miss to keep possession with the Lady Cardinals. Brown again split a pair of free throws with 28 seconds remaining, but she corralled her own rebound and was promptly fouled, sending her to the line once more at the 0:26 mark.

This time she wouldn't miss.

Brown's run at the free-throw line helped Class 4A No. 6 Verdigris stave off a late Tecumseh rally, sending it to the championship round of The Mother Road Classic with a 40-33 victory in the semifinals Friday night at the Verdigris Activity Center.

"I was just thinking about how me and my team had to hook up and play together and play with intensity to end it out and go to the championship," Brown said of her mindset during that eight-second stretch through which she shot six free throws.

"It felt really good because I knew we wouldn't have to freak out at the end, putting it away and getting the dub early," added Brown, who finished with six points and five rebounds.

Borgstadt capped the Lady Cardinals' 7-2 run — which she started — with a free throw of her own for the final points of the game with seven seconds remaining, but the sequence of the events that led to Brown's heroics was a stressful time for Verdigris.

After getting outscored 9-0 in the third quarter, Tecumseh opened the fourth with an 8-0 run — including six points from 5-11 post Reagan Berry — to cut its deficit to 33-31 at the 3:07 mark. At that moment, it was looking like the Lady Savages might return the favor of a scoreless quarter.

"Their leading scorers are their three guards, but we knew 32 (Berry) was bigger than anybody we had, so we knew that would be a problem," Verdigris coach Mike Buntin said of Berry, who managed 10 points and three rebounds. "They were able to get deep position, and there was just nothing we could do about it when we allowed her to get that deep."

From there, neither team scored until just after Maddy Daniels stole the ball at half court and was subsequently fouled to prevent a fast break with 57 seconds remaining.

Daniels missed the front end of the one-and-one, but Borgstadt — who finished with 19 points and seven rebounds — grabbed the offensive board and was fouled in the process, sending her to the line just two seconds later. She made the ensuing shots, increasing the Lady Cardinals' lead to 35-31 while also sparking their game-winning spurt.

Tecumseh's Sami Schweighhardt answered with an offensive putback off a missed 3-pointer to make it a two-point game again at the 0:41 mark, but what followed was a gritty effort from Brown.

Before the fourth-quarter drama, fans were treated to an electric back-and-forth between Borgstadt and Lady Savage guards Serenity Jacoway and Jadyn Wilson.

Jacoway and Wilson suddenly caught the hot hand from long range late in the first quarter, hitting consecutive 3-pointers to give Tecumseh a 10-6 lead. Daniels responded with a 3-ball herself to end the frame, but Wilson opened the second with another triple, and a layup from Berry made it a 15-9 spread.

Enter Borgstadt.

The 6-foot-0 senior hit back-to-back 3s to tie the game before regaining the lead for Verdigris at 17-15 with a pair of free throws. She and Jacoway then traded 3-pointers, and the latter knotted the tally once more at the free-throw line prior to Brown hitting what would be the game-winning shot in the second period because the Lady Cardinals never trailed again after taking a 22-20 lead.

That advantage increased to four points on an Adalyn Waters layup, but Jacoway ended the half with a three-point play to make it 24-23 at the half.

Tecumseh (7-3) made four 3-pointers in the first half but went without any in the second half thanks to some halftime adjustments made by Buntin.

In fact, neither Jacoway nor Wilson scored in the final 16 minutes, finishing with 11 and six points, respectively.

"We knew they were really quick, and they were trying to use our aggressive defense to their advantage," Buntin said. "They'd attack baseline and then get us to over help, and then they were just skipping it to wide-open 3s. So we were really switching a lot more (in the second half), and then we ran them off the line. We knew that 0, 1 and 12 (Wilson, Jacoway and Schweighardt) could shoot it, and we knew 11 (Kenzli Warden) could score in a multitude of ways, so our goal was to make sure we ran them off the line and make sure they were taking it to the basket."

Verdigris (7-2) advances to take on Class 5A No. 3 Tahlequah in the championship at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Lady Tigers are 9-1 on the season and defeated 5A No. 4 Will Rogers 64-49 in the semifinals.

It will be a rematch of the 2021 Port City Classic final, which Tahlequah won 51-47. To this day, that is the Lady Cardinals' only loss inside the Verdigris Activity Center. They are 23-1 in that building, which hosted its first basketball season in 2020-21.

"These girls are competitive — they hate to lose in any way, shape or form," Buntin said. "Knowing that that's the only loss, it will fuel them. We reminded them about it just now, and we'll use it again at walkthrough.

"We may actually pull up some pictures or some old video just to continue to fuel that fire."

VERDIGRIS 40, TECUMSEH 33

TECUMSEH — Serenity Jacoway 11, Reagan Berry 10, Wilson 6, Schweighardt 4, Warden 2.

VERDIGRIS — Morgan Borgstadt 19, Brown 6, Waters 5, Daniel 5, Daniels 3, Young 2.

Tecumseh 10 13 0 10 — 33

Verdigris 9 15 9 7 — 40

3-pointers: Verdigris (6) — Borgstadt 3, Daniel 1, Daniels 1, Waters 1. Tecumseh (4) — Jacoway 2, Wilson 2.

Free throws: Tecumseh 10-12, Verdigris 14-18.

Rebounds: Verdigris (24) — Borgstadt 7, Brown 5, Wiginton 4, Team 3, Waters 2, Daniels 1, Daniel 1, Young 1. Tecumseh (20) — Warden 6, Schweighardt 4, Boatman 3, Berry 3, Team 2, Jacoway 1, Wilson 1.

Turnovers: Verdigris 11, Tecumseh 12.