By Ron Holt
A couple of dominating defensive performances propelled Bixby’s Lady Spartan basketballers to a pair of Frontier Valley Conference victories last week.
Last Tuesday, Bixby avenged an earlier season setback with a 38-31 victory at Union and returned home last Friday to capture an impressive 49-34 victory over Broken Arrow in Whitey Ford Field House.
Bixby, top-ranked in Class 6A East, improved to 16-3 on the season. The Lady Spartans won their eighth game in a row and recorded their 13th win in the past 14 games. No. 4 Union fell to 12-5 while No. 6 Broken Arrow, which has lost to Bixby three times this season, dropped to 13-7.
The Lady Spartans wrap up regular season play this week, hosting Muskogee on Tuesday (Feb. 15), visiting Booker T. Washington Wednesday (Feb. 16) and entertaining Jenks Friday (Feb 18) on Senior Night.
Bixby, which played two competitive games with Broken Arrow this season, used five points by sophomore Brynn Daniel, four points by Meredith Mayes and a three-pointer by Gentry Baldwin to pull away for a 12-6 lead after one quarter.
Back-to-back three-pointers by junior guard Gracy Wernli lifted Bixby to an 18-8 lead early in the second quarter before the Lady Spartans went on a 11-3 run increasing their lead to 26-11 at halftime.
Broken Arrow got untracked offensively in the second half, but the Lady Spartans continued playing well on both ends of the court, capitalizing on a three-pointer by Baldwin and a rebound put-back by Mayes to take a 39-24 lead into the fourth quarter.
Defense was the story in the win over BA. Besides limiting the Lady Tigers to 11 first half points, Bixby’s Wernli, with help from her teammates, held BA senior guard Taleyah Jones to four points. That was significant since Jones torched the Lady Spartans for 31 points in BA’s 61-56 loss to BHS in the Bixby Tournament semifinals while also scoring nine points in a 39-29 home floor loss to Bixby early in January.
“I thought we had a very solid performance, holding them to 11 points in the first half was outstanding,” Bixby head coach Tina Thomas said. “I thought we kept playing good defense the second half even though they had some kids start hitting buckets for them.
“Gracy’s defense and the help she received from her teammates was spectacular. She (Jones) is averaging around 20 something points a game.”
Wernli has faced defensive assignments against opponent’s scoring leaders in recent weeks and has responded with solid performances.
“I tried very hard to stay with her (Jones) and the help defense on screens really helped,” Wernli said. “We knew going into the game that we needed to try to stop her and No. 25 (McKenzie Mathurin). Coach hypes me up on defense and I’ve got my team hyping me up too.”
Mayes led Bixby in scoring with 15 points while Wernli added 10 points, Baldwin nine, Daniel seven, Alyssa Nielsen five and Kassidy Blankenship three. Mathurin led BA with 11 points.
“One of the things that stood out the most to me was that our five and six players did well tonight,” Thomas added, “These kids do what you ask them to do, and they are smart enough to do even more.”
Playing well as the regular season winds down is important to the Lady Spartans, who have their sights set on a return to the state tournament.
“Our synergy is insane right now, we have urgency because we were so close last year and we know what it takes,” said Mayes about falling in last year’s state championship game. “We’re working to play our best and not play to the level of whoever we’re playing.”
Bixby, which fell at home to Union 29-25 earlier this season, was tied 10-10 with the Redhawks after one quarter last Tuesday in Union’s Multipurpose Activity Center. A three-point bucket and lay-in by Wernli and a layup by Mayes down the stretch gave Bixby a 19-16 halftime lead in another low-scoring contest between the two rivals.
The Lady Spartans led 27-22 midway through the third quarter before Union rallied behind four straight points by senior TK Pitts to tie the game at 27-all with 1:53 left before Nielsen scored a late layup handing Bixby a 29-27 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The visitors seized the momentum opening the final frame as Baldwin drained a three-pointer and Nielsen scored from in close for a 34-27 Lady Spartan lead. Union trimmed to deficit to 34-30 before Baldwin scored on a drive and Mayes converted an impressive move around the bucket for a field goal and the 38-31 win.
“Both of us are defensive, hard-nosed oriented teams. We pride ourselves on playing good defense but its hard to do a long time,” Coach Thomas said. “We aren’t overconfident but we’re confident we’re getting better and heading in the right direction. “We’re trying to force ourselves to make a little run now.”
Mayes led Bixby in scoring at Union with 14 points while Wernli and Baldwin each scored nine points and Nielsen contributed six points.
REGIONAL HOST – Bixby’s girls will host a Class 6A East Regional tournament, Feb. 24-26, according to pairings recently released by the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association.
In first round play at Whitey Ford Field House Thursday, Feb. 24, Booker T. Washington (10-10) meets Stillwater (10-11) at 6:30 p.m. while Bixby plays Enid (1-20) at 8 p.m. The winners play for the regional crown at 2 p.m. Saturday.