By Ron Holt
After finishing the regular season on an 11-game winning streak, Bixby’s surging Lady Spartans set their collective sights on the Class 6A Regional Tournament which begins Thursday in BHS’s Whitey Ford Field House.
Bixby, 19-3, was busy last week, playing three games wrapping up the regular season. The Lady Spartans routed Muskogee (71-29) at home, captured a hard-fought 47-38 win at Booker T. Washington last Wednesday and celebrated Senior Night last Friday with a 62-21 victory over Jenks.
The Lady Spartans, who finished as Class 6A state runner-up last season, will put the regular season success in the rearview mirror for the moment while concentrating on the regional tournament opener against Enid at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Enid, coached by Nina Gregory, ended the regular season at 1-22. The Pacers have been victimized by injuries, losing three starters recently while losing a promising sophomore early in the season. EHS hopes to have two of the sidelined starters back for the regional opener, according to the Enid News & Eagle.
Despite the circumstances, Bixby knows it would be unwise to look past a playoff opponent.
“We’ll prepare for them just like we’ve prepared for everybody all season long. We’ll watch the film and make our plans … you can’t trip up on that first one,” Bixby head coach Tina Thomas said of the regional opener.
In the other regional game, Stillwater (11-12) plays Booker T. Washington (11-12) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. The Stillwater-Washington winner plays the Bixby-Enid winner for the regional title at 2 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 26).
Bixby hasn’t played Enid or Stillwater this season. The Lady Spartans own two victories over Washington. In last year’s Class 6A Area Consolation Tournament finals, Bixby rallied past Stillwater, 51-40, to qualify for state.
Stillwater returns senior guard Chrissen Harland, who hit a game-high 20 points against BHS last year, and Jayden Mason. The Lady Pioneers also feature talented freshman Janiyah Williams and junior forward Jacey Crawford, who recently set a school record for blocks with 44.
Bixby, which lost once in capturing the Frontier Valley Conference championship, steadily improved late in the regular season, finding different ways to win. In recent games, BHS reserves have also contributed valuable varsity minutes.
Bixby played two games last week without junior starter Alyssa Nielsen, who was sidelined with illness. Nielsen returned to the floor against Jenks (6-13) and turned in a solid performance.
“We told Alyssa we were going to play her and see how she did,” Thomas said. “I feel very confident she looks ready to go next week. She’s on the mend and I feel really good about her performance tonight.”
Bixby was efficient offensively from the outset breaking away from a 10-6 first quarter lead on three-pointer by junior Gracy Wernli and field goals by Nielsen and Meredith Mayes to lead Jenks 17-6 after one quarter. The Lady Spartans scored 12 consecutive points – five by Gentry Baldwin, three by Wernli and two each by Nielsen and Mayes – to lead 29- 6 before Jenks scored its only two points with 38 seconds left to trail 29-8 at intermission.
“We shot the ball well … I think eight of our 11 players made a three. We’re gaining momentum and getting a little better every time we come out,” Coach Thomas noted.
Werni’s 17 points led Bixby while Baldwin added 13, Nielsen nine and Mayes eight. “I’m doing much better. I definitely got a little winded more than usual but other than that I felt good tonight,” Nielsen said. “When I was out, I wanted to play so bad. But they handled everything just fine.
“Everything is starting to click and fall into place and the cohesiveness is there. We’ll play our game every game no matter who we’re playing,” Nielsen said looking ahead to regional play.
The Lady Spartans sank 14 three-pointers. Wernli led with five treys followed by Baldwin with three and Nielsen one. Reserves Haley Prince, Kassidy Blankenship, Sarah Beltran, Sadie Beltran and Ava Casper each sank three-point goals in the second half.
It was a memorable night for Prince, Bixby’s lone senior. She started the game, swished her first varsity three-point goal and was recognized along with her family during Senior Night activities.
“That’s my first three-pointer in a varsity game. It was so exciting …I can’t describe the feeling,” Prince said. “Everyone was shooting so well tonight, and the energy was great. To have my friends and family here made it awesome.”
LADY SPARTANS TURN BACK BTW
Bixby’s make-up conference game at Booker T. Washington last Wednesday was a battle from start to finish. Very little went the Lady Spartans way especially in the first half. BHS didn’t take a lead in the game until early in the fourth quarter before rallying in the final minute to salvage a 47-38 victory.
The aggressive Lady Hornets (11-12) jumped out to quick 8-0 lead while leading 14-7 after the first period. Washington scored the first six points of the second quarter for its largest lead of the game – 20-7 – with 4:53 showing in the second stanza.
That’s when Bixby’s offense came to life, outscoring the Lady Hornets 12-4 in the final four minutes to narrow the deficit at 24-19 at intermission. Blankenship and Wernli each sank treys while Mayes scored four points and Baldwin two during the late second period uprising.
A three-point play by Mayes gave Bixby its first tie at 29-all while the Lady Spartans matched BTW’s scoring on four more buckets in-close by Mayes to enter the fourth quarter deadlocked at 33-all.
The Lady Spartans reeled off 10 straight points – five by Wernli, three by Baldwin and two by Mayes to lead 43-33 with 1:35 remaining. But the Lady Hornets used five straight points by improved freshman Marcayla Johnson to narrow BHS’s lead to 43-38 with 42 seconds left before Baldwin sealed the win with four consecutive free throws in the final 24 seconds.
“These girls showed grit and resiliency tonight,” Coach Thomas said. “I thought we were quick triggering a little in the first half. We needed to get the ball to Meredith more because when we do. we get good shots.
“We found a way to win despite the distraction we were facing with Alyssa being out. Booker T. has improved from when we played them in the first game this season. It wasn’t the prettiest game, but I thought we got better tonight.
“I was really proud of our other girls who stepped up tonight. Kassidy is playing solid, especially defensively, and I was proud of Haley and Mady (McClure), they both played the role we needed tonight.”
Wernli’s 15 points and 14 by Mayes topped Bixby’s scoring effort followed by Baldwin’s 11 points, three by Blankenship and two each by Brynn Daniel and Prince.
“It was a crazy game. Nothing was going our way but every single girl on this team wanted to win so bad we were going to do everything we could to make it happen,” Wernli said. “We were very frustrated, but we just said we had to go play harder. When we hit three shots in a row we got rolling.”
Johnson topped the Lady Hornets in scoring with 18 points.
BHS TOPS MUSKOGEE
After early foul issues, Bixby erupted offensively in coasting past Muskogee, 71-29, last Tuesday night (Feb. 15) in a Frontier Valley Conference game at Whitey Ford Field House.
Muskogee (2-13) took advantage of Bixby’s first quarter foul problems to trail by 11-8 before Lady Spartan junior guard Wernli scored eight straight points, including two treys, to give the hosts a 19-11 first quarter lead.
A 13-3 Bixby run, keyed by eight points from Mayes, three by Wernli and a drive by Baldwin sparked the Lady Spartans to a 34-17 halftime lead.
Bixby steadily increased the lead behind Wernli’s 11 points, six by Mayes and two by Baldwin to lead 54-22 entering the final period. Bixby reserves played the fourth quarter,
“It took a minute to get much rhythm because we stopped our momentum by too much fouling early on,” said Coach Thomas. “I thought the other kids did really good, holding the standard. The kids off the bench did some nice things.”
Wernli led Bixby in scoring with 25 points, including four three-point goals. Mayes, who dominated inside, finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and four blocks. Baldwin added seven points and Daniel had three points.
With Nielsen out, Bixby relied on contributions from numerous reserves, who outscored Muskogee 17-7 in the fourth quarter. Prince and Sadie Beltran each scored four points while Mady McClure and Blankenship each sank a three-pointer.
“With Alyssa being out I knew we’d need more bench contributions, so I knew I was going to be sixth man tonight and I mentally prepared myself for it,” said McClure, a 5-9 junior guard. “I had a good JV (junior varsity) game … I was ready for it.
“I think we did really good, I think we played really good as a team while trying to fill Alyssa’s spot. I think we maintained the tempo pretty well. It was so exciting being out there,” she added.
BIXBY 62, JENKS 21
(Friday, Feb. 18)
Bixby Scoring – Gracy Wernli 17, Gentry Baldwin 13, Alyssa Nielsen 9, Meredith Mayes 8, Haley Prince 3, Sarah Beltran 3, Sadie Beltran 3, Kassidy Blankenship 3, Ava Casper 3.
Jenks Scoring – Jill Twiehaus 5, Kiara Brown 5, Madison Luciano 3, Brianna Johnson 3, Mandy Simpson 3, MacKenzie Forgione 2.
BIXBY 47, BOOKER T. WASHINGTON 38
(Wednesday, Feb. 16)
Bixby Scoring – Wernli 15, Mayes 14, Baldwin 11, Blankenship 3, Daniel 2, Prince 2.
BTW Scoring – Johnson 18, Owens 9, Hill 5, Smith 4.
BIXBY 71, MUSKOGEE 29
(Tuesday, Feb. 15)
Bixby Scoring – Wernli 25, Mayes 22, Baldwin 7, Prince 4, Sad. Beltran 4, Blankenship 3, Daniel 3, Mady McClure 3.
Muskogee Scoring – Jakayla Swanson 10, Bianca McVay 8, Malaysia Burton 5, Akira Eubanks 3, Aniyah Thomas 2, Jenee Coleman 1.