An emotional Kale Simon struggled to find the words Friday morning.
“These kids go about their business in the right way,” the Okemah coach said after pausing to gather himself. “and I think it’s good to see when people like that are rewarded.”
Simon had just watched his top-ranked Panthers rally from an eight-point deficit behind multiple heroes in for a 59-54 win against No. 5 Sequoyah-Tahlequah in the Class 3A semifinals.
It was the second close call for last year’s runner-up in as many days.
“We haven’t deserved to win either day” Simons said. “We haven’t played well enough to truly secure ourselves victories in either game. I don’t really know what’s going on here, but I think it’s good to see these young men rewarded.”
The Panthers (28-1) play the winner of Verdigris and Centennial at 12:15 p.m. Saturday in State Fair Arena.
Trailing by six with 4:30 remaining, senior John Wingfield caught fire, scoring nine of the final 14 points to regain the lead and control of the game.
Wingfield finished with a game-high 25 points, 14 coming in the final period.
“I just try to contribute to our team and stuff with what I can do,” he said. “It’s not just me; they helped me get open and did everything they could. I’ll do anything for them, too.”
Wingfield, though, wasn’t the only hero for Okemah.
Fellow senior Gus Klutts was equally as huge down the stretch, coming up with a deflection that led to him diving for the ball and getting a timeout with 11.2 seconds remaining. Okemah led 57-54 at the time.
Five seconds later, Klutts iced the game with two free throws.
“He saw the ball and he went for it,” Wingfield said. “That was nice.”
Sequoyah-Tahlequah (24-4) went on an 11-0 run to end the first quarter and into the second to take a 19-12 lead. The Indians then seemingly controlled the game until late in the fourth.
B.J. Leach led the Indians with 11 points, while Caisen Green and Elijah Tucker scored 10 apiece.