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By Glen Miller
OKLAHOMA CITY – For the first time in five seasons, El Reno High School’s boys basketball team will not be feeling the fever of “March Madness.”
The Indians, ranked No.11 in the final Class 5A poll, dropped a 52-45 decision to No.15 Western Heights in the Region 1 semifinals. The setback was the fourth in a row for El Reno, which closed out the season with an 11-11 record.
The loss ended a run of four straight trips to state for El Reno and marked only the third time in the nine-year tenure of head coach Rodney Haydon for EHS to exit the playoffs in the opening night elimination round.
“We played better than they did for three quarters. But in the fourth period they hit a couple of 3-pointers in transition and it snowballed on us.
“We started thinking and we panicked a little bit and we could not stop them. It was a helpless feeling after that. We needed to find a way to stop the bleeding and we just didn’t do it,” said Haydon.
El Reno took a 36-27 lead into the fourth period, having converted four transition buckets in the third period into 10 points in a 16-10 scoring edge.
However, the fourth period was a complete 180 from the third as El Reno missed its first six shot attempts and did not score its first points of the frame until a rebound and put-back by Bryon Elledge with 3:22 to play.
Western Heights used El Reno’s 6:23 scoring drought, which spanned back into the third period, to reel off 13 straight points and take a 40-36 lead.
El Reno fell behind by seven before pulling back to within four on a free throw by Justin Brown (2:12) and a basket from Elledge off a steal and assist from Sage Lamebull with 1:44 left.
The Indians missed a golden opportunity to close further with 1:06 left when Lamebull misfired on a 3-pointer and Brown missed the follow-up off the offensive rebound.
The Jets went back up by six before El Reno scaled it back to four points twice on two Justin Harris free throws (50.3) and a basket by Brown off a rebound from a Michael Jones miss with 35.1 seconds left. El Reno, however, would miss its final three shot attempts and close the fourth period hitting 3-of-17 from the field.
El Reno had 14 empty possessions in the fourth period and turned the ball over six times. Over the final two periods, the Indians turned the ball over 13 times and logged 23 possessions without points.
“When they tied the game and then went ahead, your mentality is a whole lot different because you have been playing a little relaxed because you were up by 10 points. It’s harder to make shots all of a sudden when it’s tied up and in a big game.
“They just outplayed us in the fourth quarter. They were just a little stronger and faster tonight up top. We had a lot of turnovers and that was the difference,” said Haydon.
The third contest of the year between the teams, each having won once, was a close battle from the opening tip. The game was tied 3-all for the first four minutes as each squad had the same shots taken (7) and turnovers (5).
Lamebull’s baseline leaner at the buzzer pulled El Reno to within one, 8-7, going into a see-saw second period. Before halftime, there were five ties and five lead changes before back-to-back baskets by Brown in the final 1:23 left the Indians with a 20-16 lead at the break.
El Reno’s edge in that third period was sparked by two treys and eight points from Harris, while three other players added at least a basket each.
Brown led El Reno with a line of 16 points, seven rebounds and two steals, while Harris had 10 points, two steals and a carom. Lamebull chipped in seven points, two rebounds and a steal. Elledge was close behind with six points, three assists, three rebounds and a pick.
Jones was held to four points, seven caroms and two assists. Christian Wassana added two points, while Bailey Denny had a rebound, a steal and an assist.