By Ron Holt
With the game on the line with less than five minutes remaining, Bixby responded with a perfect showing from the free throw line and a 14-3 run to salvage a 52-38 victory over pesky Stillwater in a Class 6A Girls Regional Championship game at Whitey Ford Field House Tuesday night.
The Lady Spartans, 21-3 and winners of 13 straight games, advance to a Class 6A Area Tournament winners’ bracket game against familiar foe Union (17-5) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday (March 3) at Cleveland High’s gymnasium.
The winner advances to the state tournament while the Bixby-Union loser plays the winner of the Owasso-Putnam City North losers’ bracket game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. “We’ll play Union for the third time with winner going to state,” Bixby head coach Tina Thomas said. “It’s going to be whoever shows up and plays the best.”
Bixby was productive from the outset against Stillwater, scoring the game’s first eight points on a 3-pointer by Gracy Wernli, a three-point play by Alyssa Nielsen and a drive by Gentry Baldwin. Three late points by Meredith Mayes gave BHS a 13-4 lead but the Lady Pioneers rallied for four straight points to narrow the gap to 13-8 after one quarter.
A trey by Baldwin and two points each by Nielsen and Wernli increased Bixby’s margin to 24-13 with 1:42 left before halftime. The Lady Pioneers continued fighting back as Aspen Clarkson hit two free throws and talented freshman Janiyah Williams converted a three-point play to trim BHS’s halftime advantage to 24-18.
The third quarter was more of the same as Bixby would extend its lead only to see the Lady Pioneers battle back to remain in contention entering the fourth quarter with the Lady Spartans holding a 36-33 lead.
Nielsen opened the final frame with a jumper for a 38-33 lead before Williams banked in a drive for a 38-35 Bixby lead with 5:52 remaining. That’s when Bixby pulled away – thanks to 10-of-10 shooting from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter – as the Lady Spartans outscored SHS 14-3 down the stretch.
Wernli started the surge by sinking two free throws followed by field goals by Baldwin and Mayes for a 44-35 Bixby lead. After a three-point play by the Lady Pioneers’ Williams, Bixby scored the game’s final eight points all from the line with Baldwin swishing six free throws and Mayes sinking two.
“We didn’t have an offensive flow like we’re used to, but I just told them at this time of the year we did what we had to do. Hitting free throws was huge … I don’t think we missed one in the fourth quarter,” said coach Thomas.
“They weren’t going to double down on our post (Mayes) so we just kept feeding her. That’s a scrappy little team. We had some break downs and they got some easy buckets on us. We’ll watch film and see where we can improve.
“I was proud of Gentry hitting the free throws and doing a good job guarding No. 24 (Williams). She had 13 points and our goal was to hold her below her average. Gracy did a good job on No. 11 (Chrissen Harland) who can go off with threes,” coach Thomas added.
Mayes topped Bixby in scoring with 15 points while Baldwin scored 13, Nielsen 11, Wernli 10 and Brynn Daniel three. The Lady Spartans were 14-of-15 from the free throw line in the game.
“We’ve been working a lot on free throws in practice, we know how important they are in the playoffs,” Baldwin said. “They are a good team, well coached and they don’t quit at all. They were in your face with their defense … we were never able to get anything going.
“As a team I thought we were pretty calm when they started coming back and we were able to answer. Coach Thomas talked to us at halftime about being more patient on offense. We were working so hard on defense that I didn’t think we were as patient on offense.
“It’s a great feeling being regional champs,” she added.
Stillwater (12-13) was led in scoring by Aspen Clarkson and Williams, each with 13 points. The Lady Pioneers try to keep state tourney hopes alive when they play Tahlequah (22-3) in a loser’s Area Tournament game at 8 p.m. Thursday at Will Rogers’ gymnasium,
BIXBY 80, ENID 21
Bixby’s strong start settled the issue early in the Lady Spartans’ 80-21 victory over struggling Enid (1-23) in the regional tourney opener last Saturday night.
The Lady Spartans led 20-4 after one quarter and held a commanding 44-8 lead at halftime and a 68-14 lead going into the fourth quarter in capturing their 12th victory in a row.
“We knew it would be a mismatch as far as talent-wise, but we came out and did what we should do,” coach Thomas said. “I thought they came out ready to go and were clicking on all cylinders. That’s all you can ask. I feel like the young ones who came in did a good job too.”
Baldwin led the balanced BHS offensive effort with 16 points. Mayes and Nielsen each scored 12 points and Wernli and freshman Ava Casper contributed 10 points.
“We were all pretty confident that we’d play a lot tonight … it’s great to play in the regional tournament,” said Casper, who had a career high effort with three 3-pointers and a free throw. “I hit the first three and I thought it was going to be a good night.
“I love playing with all these girls, we have great leaders on this team. It’s fun to look up to them. The younger girls realize it’s our time when we get to play and we just try to play as well as we can,” she added.
NOTES – This will be the third meeting between Bixby and Union. The Redhawks won an earlier meeting at Bixby 29-25 while the Lady Spartans won at Union 38-31. … Union defeated Tahlequah, 48-35, to win a regional championship Tuesday. Senior TK Pitts, a Southern Methodist signee, led the Riverhawks in scoring with 18 points. … The Bixby-Stillwater game resembled last year’s meeting between the two teams in the Class 6A Area Consolation Finals. Stillwater led in the first half and early in the third quarter before Bixby went on a run to secure a hard-fought 51-40 win and a berth in the state tourney.
BIXBY 52, STILLWATER 38
Bixby Scoring – Meredith Mayes 15, Gentry Baldwin 13, Alyssa Nielsen 11, Gracy Wernli 10, Brynn Daniel 3.
Stillwater Scoring – Aspen Clarkson 13, Janiyah Williams 13, Chrissen Harland 6, Jayden Mason 6.
BIXBY 80, ENID 21
Bixby Scoring – Baldwin 16, Mayes 12, Nielsen 12, Wernli 10, Ava Casper 10, Daniel 6, Mady McClure 6, Sarah Beltran 3, Sadie Beltran 2.
Enid Scoring – Kiara Morris 6, Mariah Williams 5, Mary Angel Jibbwa 4, Ari Mejia 4, Kyra Criss 2.