By Ron Holt
TULSA – On a beautiful day when nothing worked early, sixth-ranked Bixby replaced frustration with determination down the stretch allowing the Lady Spartans to advance to the Class 6A Girls State Basketball Tournament this week.
Surging Stillwater dominated Bixby through two and one-half quarters before the Lady Spartans relied on a late 18-0 run and six free throws in the final 38 seconds to rally for a 51-40 victory in the Class 6A Area Consolation Championship at Union’s Multipurpose Activities Center last Saturday afternoon.
Bixby, 17-5, makes its first state tournament appearance in four years. The Lady Spartans meet No. 4 Choctaw (18-2) in the state quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Thursday (March 11) at Sapulpa’s Field House. Choctaw defeated No. 5 Mustang 56-52 in overtime in an Area Tournament’s winners’ bracket game last week.
“Choctaw is a very good team. They have a nice balance of inside and outside players,” Bixby head coach Tina Thomas said. “They have not played as rigorous of a schedule as us, but their program has been known to frequent the state tournament often.”
Bixby struggled shooting from the field and the free throw line, struggled on the boards and were out of sync until coming to life late in the third quarter against No. 19 Stillwater.
“We had probably the poorest shooting game of the year,” coach Thomas said. “But good teams find a way to make it happen. I think they were a little tight because they wanted it so bad and it’s hard coming off an emotional loss against Union, a game we expected to win.”
Stillwater played its best basketball of the season in the playoffs after enduring a regular season victimized by numerous Covid disruptions. The Lady Pioneers of head coach Kendra Kilpatrick end the season at 11-10.
“Hats off to Stillwater,” Thomas added. “I’m so proud for Kendra (Kilpatrick) and her group. They came in with a good game plan and they battled.”
The Lady Pioneers didn’t play like an underdog early. They were the aggressor and were the more efficient offensive team. Stillwater led 12-11 after one quarter and went on an 8-0 run late in the second stanza to capture a 25-17 lead at halftime.
Bixby’s Alyssa Nielsen and Gracy Wernli scored back-to-back goals opening the third quarter, narrowing the deficit to 25-21 before Stillwater answered with a basket by Jayden Mason and a three-pointer by Chrissen Harland for a 31-21 SHS lead with 5:56 left in the third quarter.
Wernli swished a three-pointer before Harland responded with a trey to give Stillwater its second 10-point lead (34-24) of the game with 3:55 in the third quarter. That’s when momentum drifted Bixby’s way.
Wernli hit a free-throw followed by consecutive three-pointers by senior Kate Bradley and Gentry Bladwin to get BHS back in contention, 34-31, entering the fourth quarter. Wernli’s three-point attempt ending the third quarter went in and bounced out.
Bradley opened the final frame with a three-pointer to tie the game at 34-all. Sophomore forward Meredith Mayes, who left the game at the 7:02 mark of the third quarter with four fouls, returned to the court in the final six minutes, making her presence known by scored eight straight points for a 42-34 Bixby lead. It capped off a 18-0 run by the Lady Spartans.
“Coach told me to make something happen. Their post girl (Claudia Vanzant) had four fouls … Alyssa came up to me and said she’s got four fouls so keep taking it to her,” Mayes, who ended with 12 points, said. “I definitely got a little scared … they were making almost every shot. But I knew all we had to do was keep playing.”
Isabel Lynch ended an almost eight-minute scoring drought by the Lady Pioneers when she scored off a rebound with 3:09 left, trimming Bixby’s lead at 42-36. SHS played four minutes without standout 6-2 senior post Vanzant, it was a crucial loss for SHS as she was credited with 11 rebounds.
Bradley banked in a field goal in the paint for a 44-36 BHS lead with 2:03 remaining in the contest before
Harland – who had a game-high 20 points – drained a three-pointer with 1:42 left keeping Stillwater in contention at 44-39.
Both teams struggled at the line as Wernli hit one of four attempts and Stillwater’s Mason missed the front end of a one-and-one attempt, but Lynch hit one of two charities narrowing the gap to 45-40 with 43.4 seconds showing.
Wernli regrouped to sink two free throws with 38.2 seconds left, giving Bixby some breathing room with a 47-40 lead. Baldwin and Bradley sealed the hard-fought win with two free throws each in the final 25 seconds left for the 11-point victory margin.
“I wanted more free throws … I knew I could make them. I was mad that I missed the others, but I calmed myself down and took a breath,” said Wernli, who finished with a team-high 13 points. “We all came together and decided that we weren’t going to get down and were going to play like we know how to play. We are looking forward to state … we’ve got three more games.”
Bradley provided valuable leadership down the stretch, finishing with 12 points. She was on the Lady Spartan roster the last time Bixby played in the state tournament and is excited about a return appearance.
“This was a hard game. This tournament is different … the energy is different,” Bradley said. “They are going to step up and hit their shots just like we’re going to hit ours. They wanted to win too. I just depended on my team. Everyone goes through spots when it’s not falling but I knew we’d eventually get the shots to fall.
“It’s so great going back to state. I’m so ready to win it and I know these girls can take us there,” she added.
NOTES – In other Class 6A state quarterfinal games Thursday at Sapulpa, No. 3 Union plays Mustang at 2 p.m., No. 1 Norman meets No. 7 Midwest City at 6 p.m. and No. 2 Edmond North tests Putnam City North at 8 p.m. The Bixby-Choctaw winner plays the Edmond North-PC North winner in the semifinals at 4 p.m. Friday. In the playoffs, Choctaw, coached by Ryan Maloney, defeated Southmoore (70-31) and Deer Creek-Edmond (52-35) to win regional. In the Area tourney win over Mustang, junior center Hannah Smith led the Lady Yellowjackets in scoring with 18 points. … Choctaw’s losses were to Classen SAS (51-48, overtime) in the Moore Tournament and a 36-34 loss at Putnam North.…. Bixby received solid efforts from everyone taking the floor to offset Stillwater’s early dominance. “Bradley played like you’d expect from a senior. She’s provided off-court leadership this season and her language is encouraging,” coach Thomas noted. “Alyssa stepped up huge today with her rebounding … she just made things happen. Lexi (Eaves) came off the bench and gave us a shot of energy which we desperately needed. Meredith going back in there and snapping off those points was big.” Bixby outscored SHS 20-6 in the fourth quarter. … Nielsen ended with nine points and solid board work while Baldwin contributed five clutch points.
UNION 46, BIXBY 45
(Area Winners’ Bracket)
Despite playing on Union’s home court, Bixby battled to the final second before dropping a disappointing 46-45 decision to UHS in the winners’ bracket contest last Thursday at the UMAC. It was Union’s second win of the season over the Lady Spartans, taking a 47-45 win in the Putnam City tourney finals.
Seven straight points by Union’s Makenzie Malham lifted the hosts to a 19-11 first quarter lead and UHS led 23-15 midway though the second stanza before Bixby’s Bradley and Wernli each sank three-pointers and Mayes scored to tie the game at 23-all at intermission.
A Wernli three-pointer opening the third quarter gave BHS its first lead at 26-23 and when Baldwin and Mayes scored on drives, Bixby led 35-34 entering the final quarter. The game was tied at 42-all with 1:55 left before Union used four free throws to offset a three-pointer by Wernli with 5.4 seconds showing.
Union’s Kaylen Nelson missed the front end of a one-and-one with 3.2 seconds left but Bradley was mauled at half line with under a second left as Union had a foul to give.
“Union is 18-1 for a reason, they are well rounded … they did a really good job in rebounding,” coach Thomas said. “Our girls battled hard … these kids will not give up. They will battle. Union rebounds so strong, the boards killed us tonight.”
Baldwin led Bixby with 14 points, followed by Wernli with 12, Bradley with 10, Mayes with seven and Nielsen with two. Nelson topped Union with 16 points.
Class 6A State Tournament
(at Sapulpa Field House)
2 p.m. – No. 3 Union (18-1) vs. No. 5 Mustang (20-5)
4 p.m. – No. 4 Choctaw (18-2) vs. No. 6 Bixby (17-5)
6 p.m. – No. 1 Norman (16-0) vs. No. 7 Midwest City (16-7)
8 p.m. – No. 2 Edmond North (21-2) vs. No. 9 Putnam City North (14-6)
2 p.m. – Edmond North-Putnam North winner vs. Choctaw-Bixby winner
4 p.m. – Union-Mustang winner vs. Norman-Midwest City winner
(at ORU’s Mabee Center)
11:30 p.m. – Class 6A Girls Championship Game