By Ron Holt
The rematch many wanted to watch during the regular season will be a feature game during Class 6A Area Girls Basketball Tournament play this week.
Sixth-ranked Bixby (16-4) and third-ranked Union (17-1) meet for the second time this season in a 6A East Area Tournament winners’ bracket game at 6 p.m. Thursday (March 4) at Union’s Multipurpose Athletic Center.
The winner advances to the state tournament. The loser plays the winner of a losers’ bracket contest between No. 19 Stillwater and No. 17 Muskogee – scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday at the UMAC – with a state tourney berth on the line. That game is set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday (March 6) at the UMAC.
Bixby and Union were involved in a hard-fought battle January 9 in the championship game of the Putnam City Invitational before UHS held on for a 47-45 victory. The Lady Spartans, who lost several games late because of virus concerns and inclement weather, have won eight straight games since that setback.
“This is the game we’ve been waiting for this year. Everybody wants it at this point because you can taste that you are almost where you wanted to be when you started working back in October,” Bixbv head coach Tina Thomas said of the Union battle with a state tournament berth on the line.
In the Putnam City final, both teams competed with the game being up for grabs prior to the final horn. UHS, which defeated Sand Springs (46-33) in the regional finals, has a balanced, talented attack, featuring seniors Kaylen Nelson and Takyla Pitts.
Bixby returned to action after a lengthy layoff, hosting the Class 6A East Regional last week. The Lady Spartans showed no signs of rust, playing inspired, focused basketball in a 67-23 opening win over Jenks and a 54-40 victory over 11th-ranked Edmond Memorial in the regional championship last Saturday (Feb. 27) afternoon. It was BHS’s first regional title since 2018.
Despite five quick points from senior guard Kate Bradley, Bixby trailed 7-5 midway through the first quarter before going on a 7-2 run – featuring six straight points by sophomore forward Meredith Mayes – for a 12-9 first quarter lead.
The second quarter was a back-and-forth affair with Edmond Memorial’s AuShae Farris coming off the bench to sink three straight three-point goals to give the Lady Bulldogs a 22-20 lead with 2:20 left in the second stanza.
Bixby countered with a three-pointer by sophomore guard Gentry Baldwin and a layup by Alyssa Nielsen to capture a 25-22 halftime lead.
Five early points by sophomore guard Gracy Wernli gave Bixby a 30-29 third quarter lead before the Lady Spartans went on an 8-2 run to increase the lead to 38-31 entering the fourth quarter. Mayes scored three points, Baldwin sank a trey and Nielsen scored off the glass during the late charge.
The Lady Spartans began separating from the Lady Bulldogs early in the fourth quarter after a three-pointer by Wernli and two free throws by Nielsen boosted the lead to 43-31 with 5:15 remaining. Edmond Memorial could only narrow the deficit to 10 points on two occasions down the stretch.
“We were a little tight when we went out there, but I knew we’d loosen up. We tried getting our post girls high percentage shots and play inside out which helped the guards get more time to get a good shot,” Thomas added. “Most people can’t match up very well when you two good post players. We work on the high-low situations.
“I thought we played really good defense in the second half. This group is selfless … they might have a point-blank shot, but they pass it over to a teammate who is closer. We did that a lot tonight. This is a special group.”
Mayes led Bixby’s balanced offensive effort with 15 points followed by Bradley with 13, Wernli 11, Nielsen nine and Baldwin six.
“I’m so proud off what we’ve done. Our energy since we’ve gone into the playoffs has been exponentially better. The way we were passing the ball and getting down the floor was incredible,” Mayes said. “Even though it was close we just kept our heads the whole time and had a positive mindset going into the third quarter, something we’ve done better this year.”
Bradley was a freshman on Bixby’s last regional champion and state tournament qualifying team. It was an exciting time but playing a larger role as a team leader this time around is even more exciting.
“I was there as a freshman but I’m seeing it from a different perspective this time. It feels great being the one holding the trophy and taking it back to the team,” Bradley said. “I think we kept our poise in stressful situations tonight. We never felt like it was a three-point game … we didn’t worry about the score we just played our game.
“It’s so exciting … I’m so ready to keep playing,” Bradley added.
BIXBY 67, JENKS 23
Tied 3-3 early, Bixby’s Wernli set the tempo for the remainder of the Class 6A Regional Tournament opener with Jenks as she drained a three-pointer and stole a pass before feeding Bradley for a layup and a quick 8-3 lead.
Wernli’s early efforts epitomized the Lady Spartans’ focus, effort, and tenacity in their third meeting – and third win – this season against Jenks, which ended its season with the loss.
The Lady Spartans dominated the remainder of the first quarter, outscoring the Lady Trojans 18-0 after the early tie to build up a 21-3 first quarter lead. Leading 8-3, Bradley hit a three-pointer, Baldwin hit a trey, Wernli scored on a layup, Bradley sank a jump, Baldwin turned a steal into a layup and Bradley sank a free throw to end the quarter.
Nielsen opened the second quarter with a jumper before Baldwin scored on back-to-back field goals for a 27-3 lead before Jenks ended the scoring drought with two free throws by Jill Twiehaus with 6:30 showing in the second frame.
Bixby rolled to a 34-8 lead at halftime and led 55-18 going into the fourth quarter.
The Lady Spartans’ offensive attack featured four double figure scorers – Wernli with 21 points, Baldwin with 14, Bradley with 11 and Nielsen with 10.
Class 6A Regional Tournament
BIXBY 54, EDMOND MEMORIAL 40
Edmond Memorial 9 13 9 9-40
Bixby 12 13 13 16-54
Bixby Scoring – Mayes 15, Bradley 13, Wernli 11, Nielsen 9, Baldwin 6.
BIXBY 67, JENKS 23
Jenks 3 5 10 5 – 23
Bixby 21 13 21 12 -67
Bixby Scoring – Wernli 21, Baldwin 14, Bradley 11, Nielsen 10, Meredith Mayes 7, Laci Scott 2, Jyllian Mays 2.