TULSA — Even in the final seconds of a championship game already put away, Deer Creek's players were diving after loose balls and playing solid defense.
They weren't going to let up until the final buzzer sounded and the gold ball was being carted out to midcourt.
“We weren't about to let this slip away,” Deer Creek's Ashley Gibson said.
The Antlers didn't, winning the Class 5A title with a 59-44 win over Shawnee on Saturday night at the Mabee Center.
“This does not feel real,” Deer Creek's Bayli Blanchard said after emerging from a raucous Antlers locker room. “I'm as happy as I've ever been right now.”
Gibson, who a day before struggled with foul trouble before a strong second half helped lead Deer Creek to a win over Tulsa East Central, scored a game-high 21. She scored 14 of her points in the first half when she and Bayli Blanchard combined for all 23 of the Antlers' first-half points.
“She cramped up a little bit but battled through it,” Deer Creek coach Totsy Manning said. “We put her on their best shooter and she came through defensively. We definitely had a defensive scheme coming in and they stuck to it.”
Sticking with the plan is something the Antlers started to learn Dec. 11, when they lost to the Wolves, who won the 5A title last year.
“Sometimes, you say there are good losses and that was definitely one for us,” Manning said. “They showed us our weaknesses. From that point on, the kids focused on sticking with the game plan and doing what they needed to do to get to where Shawnee had been.
“They're not going to fix them overnight but that was when we started becoming this team.”
That journey ended Saturday at ORU, celebrating with a locker room dance once the team finally gathered there long after the game had ended.
“It makes it even better to do it against them,” Blanchard said. “We're a completely different team than we were the first time we played them.”
Blanchard scored 16 and Dakota Vann scored 14 — all in the second half.
It wasn't easy, though, even against a Shawnee team missing its leading scorer, McKenzie Cooper.
For the second consecutive day, Shawnee sophomore Bailey Taylor wore Cooper's No. 20. Cooper injured her knee in Friday's first-round win over Tulsa Memorial.
Taylor helped carry Shawnee early, hitting three 3-pointers in the first half.
She led the Wolves with 19 points. Micaela Yu had 12 for Shawnee.
Deer Creek led by 11 around the midpoint of the fourth when the Wolves scored eight consecutive points to pull to within three in the final two minutes.
But the Antlers regained their footing defensively and hit their free throws in the closing minutes to seal the school's third girls basketball state championship.
“We just stuck together as a family,” Gibson said. “We didn't want to let each other down.”