By BEN JOHNSON
The clock read triple zeros and the buzzer sounded around 8:40 Saturday night. Muskogee had just escaped the TMAC with a 61-54 win over Tahlequah to claim the UKB Tiger Invitational crown.
A few minutes later, the disappointment was etched all over the faces of Randee O’Donnell and Casey Beaston. The tears were no longer welled up in their eyes. The emotions, instead, escaped as both were presented miniature plaques for making the All-Tournament team.
But the keepsakes meant zilch to them. They would have traded them in to hoist the team trophy.
That’s how much winning the tournament meant to the Tahlequah players.
Tahlequah coach Chad Walker said the free fall of tears was from two goals being wiped away off the Lady Tigers’ preseason bucket list. And while that may be true, the heartbreak of losing to their neighbor on the other end of Highway 62 likely has a lot to do with it, as well.
If you weren’t at the TMAC for tournament final, you missed out. You missed what felt like a playoff game while two teams played only their fourth games of the season.
It was high drama.
It was can’t-miss stuff.
I say, let’s make it happen more often.
Let’s have Tahlequah and Muskogee play more basketball against one another.
It’s good stuff.
I even suggested the idea to Tahlequah boys coach Mike Leafgreen during the second half of the Saturday Night Showcase. He seemed like he would be all for it.
Walker is on board, too.
“I would love to do that, actually,” he said. “Problem is, if we play them home and home, I don’t want to play them in tournaments; I want to play someone else.
“I don’t like playing teams over and over. I don’t think you get better in doing that. I think the girls get better by playing against different teams, different talents and different styles.”
That’s understandable. But let’s at least guarantee ourselves more Tahlequah-Muskogee matchups on the hardwood.
The Tigers and Roughers met in the boys bracket of the Shrine tournament last season at the Muskogee Civic Center, and that was entertaining, too.
Besides, the natural rivalry aspect is already in place. They are the two largest schools in the area. Coweta is likely the closest outpost for a Class 5A — or larger — school for either Muskogee or Tahlequah.
It’d be nice if the two could schedule something in football, but the allowance of only 10 games in the regular season hinders that.
That’s not quite the case in softball and wrestling, where coaches have agreed to play at least once in the regular season. And that’s sensational stuff.
There’s a chance to stoke the fire of a possibly simmering rivalry fire with basketball added to the mix. Tahlequah-Muskogee clashes have the potential to be like Sequoyah-Keys basketball matchups — times 10.
Who knows, maybe if we’re lucky it’ll happen and it’ll create memorable matchups for generations to come.
There are no losers in that scenario.