By SHAWN YORKS
• Leader & Times
WOODWARD, Okla. — Beaver County has once again become the hotbed of small-school high school basketball talent in the state of Oklahoma. With Saturday’s 40-37 Balko win over Forgan in the Class B Area 1 Consolation championship game at the Boomer Fieldhouse, three teams will represent the county beginning Thursday at the state tournament in Oklahoma City.
No matter who won Saturday night, Beaver County was going to have three teams at state — Forgan and Balko are county rivals. And this one was sweeter for the Lady Bison, who defeated Forgan twice in the span of a week to advance to the state tournament.
“It feels amazing,” Balko senior Kyla Cowan said. “At our house, they beat us by one, which gave us the drive and determination to (want) it even more.”
In their last meeting Feb. 19 in the regional championship at Goodwell, Balko’s pressure defense held Forgan to just seven first-half points. Forgan had to play catch-up in the second half and lost 35-31. And while the Lady Bison (24-3) once again smothered the Lady Bulldogs (18-10), Forgan had an answer, and was able to overcome that defense and Balko’s prolific shooting all night.
Forgan held a slight 6-5 advantage half-way though the first period when sophomore Kenzi Taylor sparked the Lady Bulldogs to a 14-7 lead. Balko cut it to 14-9 at the end of the quarter.
The Lady Bison cut it to 14-13 behind senior Jordie Jett, but Forgan surged right back out to a 5-point advantage as Samantha Leisher and Lindsey Trippet got some shots to fall.
But again, Balko fought back. Down 23-16, Cowan and Jayla Mays brought the Lady Bison back. Cowan nailed a monster three-pointer then Mays got a steal and lay-in to make it 23-22 Forgan at the half.
It took awhile for Balko to get their legs after Friday’s tough loss to No. 1 Hammon in the Area title game.
“We came out a little slow, a little sluggish,” head coach Mitch Cowan said. “But we found a way in the second half.”
Freshman Madison Dearmin hit a trey to give Balko to lead to start the second half. Allison Watson answered for Forgan to make it 26-25, then Balko pulled out to a 6-point lead on shots by Mays and Kelsi Stevens.
Leisher cut it to 32-29 with 2:56 left in the third, and that’s what it would remain at the end of the period as both teams missed several shots and turned the ball over.
The teams traded baskets before Forgan caught a break, taking advantage of a Balko miss to regain the lead on a Trippet jumper.
Jett gave Balko the lead back with 4:43 left before Trippet tied it at 37 on a put-back with 3:10 left.
Forgan would not score again.
Three straight missed shots and a steal but a miss by Balko kept it tied before Trippet fouled out, sending Stevens to the line.
Stevens hit the first free throw but missed the second, giving Balko what would eventually be the game-winning point.
Forgan turned the ball over with 40 seconds left, sending Mays — who sat out a good part of the fourth with four fouls — to the line. The sophomore calmly sank both free throws with 15 seconds left, putting Balko up by three, but giving Forgan the ball with a chance to tie it.
The Lady Bulldogs tried to set up a play, but Balko’s defense forced Forgan to make a bad shot, which missed with 2 seconds left. The ball bounced out to Leisher, but her shot was off balance and went wide at the buzzer, sending Balko into a frenzied celebration on the court.
“We’ve been working towards this goal since freshman year, for as long as I can remember,” Kyla Cowan said. “It’s been in our heads for a long time and it feels really great.”
Mays led Balko with 14 points and Trippet 13 for Forgan.