By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Blake Gabriel scored a career-high 29, the Mustangs followed suit and Pioneer pulled to within one game of a berth in the 2A Area Tournament, racing past No. 18 Hooker 82-68 Saturday at Chisholm’s Paul J. Outhier Field House.
The Mustangs led by as much as 20, setting season-highs in points, shooting percentage (64 percent) and three-point percentage (67) to overcome a 15-turnover night against Hooker’s pressure throughout.
“Everybody was hitting tonight,” said Gabriel, who also had eight rebounds. “It makes it a lot easier.”
“I think it’s (the best offensively we played), especially against a good, quality team, for sure,” said Pioneer coach Brandon Gallagher. “They made it hard on us. We got up on them early, but I knew they weren’t going to go away.”
Gabriel had nine of his 29 in the opening 3:45 as Pioneer shot 7-11 in the first quarter to lead 23-10. Hooker missed three straight to open the second and Pioneer capitalized on each as Sage Lamunyon hit the first of his three three-pointers and 6-foot-8 sophomore Colby Koontz scored twice, including a putback dunk to push the lead to 30-10.
“It’s a big confidence booster to go up on a team like that and hit some shots,” Koontz said. “It helps our confidence a lot, even down the road.”
Joe Bean scored six of his team-high 19 in a 9-2 answering run for Hooker, but Pioneer reclaimed momentum on a three from Nicholas Denker and a 12-foot jumper from Brandon McNaughton to push its lead back to 37-19 before it settled at 43-29 at half.
Hooker closed the gap to single digits at 43-34 early in the third after a 5-0 run to open the second half, but Gabriel stole a pass and ran end to end to finish an and-one layup to extend the lead to 46-34. Hooker closed the gap to 56-44 late in the third, but Koontz after having the ball stripped, recovered the loose ball and hammered in his second dunk of the game to widen the gap and seize the wind from Hooker’s sails.
Pioneer fell a point short of surpassing 20 in every quarter in the fourth, but hit 10 of 11 free throws to keep Hooker at bay.
“That’s what it comes down to is making big plays,” Gallagher said. “Earlier in the year, we had opportunities and didn’t quite get it done … hopefully it will keep on. This is the time for it to be happening.”
Chad Kennedy scored 15, Gabe Morales added with 13 and Taylor McBee finished with 11 for Hooker, which finished its season at 20-5.
Koontz finished with 18, Denker scored 16 and missed only one three in six attempts for the Mustangs (14-12), who play No. 14 Crescent at 3 p.m. Monday at Paul J. Outhier Field House for a berth in the 2A Area Tournament, despite starting the season 0-6 as Koontz recovered from elbow surgery.
“I guess a little doubt kind of crept in (when we started 0-6), but always in the back of my head, I knew were a tough matchup for people with our size on the inside and our shooters on the outside,” Denker said.
Crescent (20-6) beat Pioneer 68-57 on Dec. 13, before Koontz’s return.
“We’ve gotten better,” Gallagher said. “This is a really tough regional — I wish we’d have gotten a little bit easier draw — but hopefully we can fight our way through and have an opportunity.”
“We don’t have anything to lose right now,” Gabriel said. “We’re the underdogs. Just come out throwing.”