By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
ENID, Okla. —
Sixty-one wins, 13 losses and an average state ranking of 5.5.
The Cherokee Strip Tournament’s four top-seeded girls teams — Class B’s No. 2 Lomega, No. 5 Timberlake, No. 6 Burlington and No. 9 Deer Creek-Lamont — don’t leave much room for argument from the rest of the field, but the jostling between the four favorites could be the best show in a basketball-heavy weekend in Enid.
“You don’t know,” said Timberlake coach Kale Pierce. “Everybody’s talking ahead to Friday, and there are teams in the bottom half that these top-four teams, if they’re looking ahead to Friday, could get themselves in trouble with. It’s a deep girls field, for sure.”
Timberlake (15-1) opens today’s play against seventh-seeded Ringwood (5-11) at 11 a.m. at the Chisholm Trail Expo Center Coliseum, DCLA plays sixth-seeded Medford (7-9) at 1:40 p.m., Lomega plays eight seed Kremlin-Hillsdale (5-12) at 4:20 p.m. and Burlington plays Cherokee (7-9) in the four-five matchup at 7 p.m.
Coach Kirsten Pruett, whose sixth-ranked Burlington girls are seeded fourth despite an 18-2 record overall and a 3-1 mark against top-20 teams, waffled before settling on a favorite — an apparently tall task given the menu of upper-echelon teams available.
“I really don’t know,” she said. “Lomega’s got history. They’re good. They’re always going to be good. They’ve played some tough teams, some really tough teams, and beat them … They’ve played a tough schedule. They’re the defending state champions. They’re the team to beat.”
And few have.
Lomega enters Thursday’s play riding seven straight wins including a 65-46 drubbing of Cherokee Strip No. 2 seed Timberlake that remains the Lady Tigers’ only loss.
Burlington is the only team in the field with a win against Lomega, eeking out a 111-103 marathon win in three overtimes on Nov. 16. The Lady Elks also beat third-seeded Deer Creek Lamont (11-6) twice in three days, 55-40 on Jan. 14 and 51-43 three days earlier, meaning the lowest seed of the top-four gauntlet also is its most successful against the other three at 3-0.
Not that Pruett is admitting their seeding is a motivator.
“We haven’t really talked about making a statement or getting redemption,” Pruett said. “It’s just like any other game. You try to win your conference tournament, and try to get ready for the playoffs.”
That’s something the heavy-hitting field at the Cherokee Strip Tournament seems fashioned for, with the top four teams all likely to factor in Class B’s playoff picture.
“They’re all top teams,” Pruett said. “On any given night, anything could happen. That’s just kind of how it works … It’s going to be a good, tough tournament, some good basketball to watch.”
Cherokee might need three-peat for one title
At 16-4, Burlington’s boys have climbed to No. 10 in Class B’s coaches poll, but even after a run of seven wins in eight tries, the Elks are only the No. 2 seed in the Cherokee Strip Tournament’s boys field.
That’s because two of those losses have come against Cherokee, which unranked in Class A and at 13-4 on the season, earned the field’s top slot.
If seeding holds, the Chiefs, who beat Burlington 36-33 on Dec. 21 in Burlington and 53-43 at its own Cherokee Invitational Tournament on Jan. 11, will have to win three straight to top the weekend bracket.
“It’s extremely tough (to win three straight against a team), especially with the kids they have and their coach,” said Cherokee coach Matt Guffy. “It’s gonna be tough, there’s no doubt about it. Both games we’ve played thus far, they’ve been close games, and neither team really ran away with it.”
Close and competitive though they were, Burlington coach Randy Turney isn’t looking ahead to a potential third tilt with the Chiefs — he’s looking much further.
“Everything we talk about in practice is what we need to do in the playoffs,” Turney said. “With them being Class A, we won’t see Cherokee in the playoffs … We try to take it one game at a time. I know that sounds cliché, but we’re trying to get better at the things that we’re not doing very well. Our goal right now is to get ready for the playoffs.”
Cherokee opens play against eighth-seeded Kremlin-Hillsdale (0-15) at 5:40 p.m., Burlington plays Timberlake at 8:20 p.m., Lomega (4-13) and Deer Creek-Lamont (10-7) play in the four-five matchup at 3 p.m. and third-seeded Ringwood (9-7) plays sixth seed Medford (5-11) at 12:20 p.m.
Guffy said the top seed meant Cherokee enters with tournament title aspirations, but stopped short of saying the tournament was the Chiefs’ to lose.
“We got voted to be the favorite, but that doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “You’ve got to show up.”
Cherokee Strip Tournament
At Chisholm Trail Coliseum
12:20 — Ringwood vs. Medford
3 —Lomega vs. DCLA
5:40 —Cherokee vs. Kremlin-Hillsdale
8:20 — Timberlake vs. Burlington
11 a.m. —Ringwood vs. Timberlake
1:40 — DCLA vs. Medford
4:20 — Lomega vs. Kremlin-Hillsdale
7 — Cherokee vs. Burlington