The long wait is over.
Salina’s girls are going to state.
Not since 1964 have the Salina girls played in the high school basketball state tournament.
But on Saturday night in Fort Gibson, they shoved their way into the eight-team field with a determined, 47-34 victory over Wilburton.
They accomplished what had been only a dream for their mothers’ generation by combining a glove-tight defense with an artful delay game.
Salina limited the Diggers to a single free throw in the fourth quarter, while holding the ball near half-court without much opposition, for several one-minute-plus possessions.
Trailing by six early in the third quarter, Salina strung together eight straight points for a 35-33 lead with under four minutes remaining in the period.
That’s when first-year head coach Tony Rosebrough brought the game to a standstill.
With Courtney Backward holding the ball near half-court, she waited for the Wilburton defense to make a move.
It did not happen. Not until she put the offense in motion in the final 30 seconds.
Although Salina did not score at that point, it did not deter Rosebrough from resorting to the same tactics in the fourth.
Only once did the maneuver fail, and that came at 5:21 when the officials assessed a five-second count against a Salina ballhandler.
Wilburton responded nine seconds later with its only point of the final period.
Then it was back to the Salina delay game.
Backward, Reesa Cowan and Kayla Morgan executed the passing game to perfection. Passing. Cutting. Dribbling. Protecting.
Five times Wilburton caught up to the Salina ballhandlers, sending them to the free-throw line. Four Wildcats combined to hit 7-of-10 free throws in the final 3:17.
On the other end, Salina was limiting the Diggers to one shot per possession. Whitley Gann pulled down three of her seven rebounds on the defensive end in the fourth quarter. Cowan picked up two of her five.
“With a two-point lead, I knew (Wilburton) couldn’t match up with us,” Rosebrough said. “I knew we could go by ’em and get to the foul line.
“Reesa and Kayla are our best free-throw shooters.
“I told the girls before the game if we could hold ’em to one shot we can win,” he said. “The more physical team will be the winner.”
With reserve LaRae Pritchett taking nine rebounds, six in the first half, Salina won the battle on the boards, 26-24. In the second half, Salina outrebounded the Diggers, 13-7.
Also in the last two quarters, Salina connected on 7-of-13 shots from the field, including 2-of-3 in the final period.
It was quite a turnaround from Salina’s 2-of-11 shooting in the second period. And that contributed to the Wildcats falling behind, 26-22, at intermission.
Well, their shooting was only partially responsible for that deficit. Junior Kellie Moon was a major contributor to Salina being on the short end. She scored nine of her 13 points in that period.
Only Cowan was able to score in all four quarters. She connected on four of Salina’s eight 3-pointers and finished with 16 points. The other two came from Backward and Morgan.
Wilburton was unable to cash in on its 10 3-point attempts. The Diggers were 12-of-33 overall, 36 percent. Salina went 15-of-35 for 42 percent.
Salina, 21-6, was ranked fifth in the final OkRankings.com poll of coaches.
The Wildcats will meet No. 3-ranked Sulphur, 25-1, at 7 p.m. Thursday in Yukon.
Wilburton, ranked No. 12, finishes at 23-7. ...
Rosebrough took over his first basketball program last fall after spending 10 seasons as an assistant to Scott Reed at Vinita. ...
The comeback victory was impressive since Salina had been forced to bounce back 24 hours after losing a difficult, 45-38 area championship game to Kansas.
SALINA 47, WILBURTON 34
Salina 16 6 13 12 — 47
Wilburton 12 14 7 1 — 34
Salina — Cowan 16, Morgan 13, Backward 10, Pritchett 6, Gann 2.
Wilburton — Moon 13, Medcalf 11, Menasco 3, Hunnicutt 3, Vanderberg 2, Saxon 2.