By Ron Holt
SAND SPRINGS – After battling hot-shooting Sand Springs to a first-half stalemate, Bixby’s second- ranked Lady Spartans came to life in the second half in rolling to an 84-50 Frontier Valley Conference victory in Ed Dubie Field House here last Tuesday night.
Bixby, 4-1 overall and 2-0 in conference play, returns to league play Friday (Dec. 16) when the Lady Spartans visit Owasso (3-2, 1-2), starting at 6:30 p.m.
Behind eight points by senior guard Gracy Wernli and six by senior Alyssa Nielsen, Bixby held a 17-14
lead after one quarter. The Lady Spartans built up leads in the second quarter but saw the ninth-ranked
Lady Sandites (7-2) connect from long range as the two teams were tied 33-all at halftime.
Sand Springs canned eight three-point attempts in the first half with four different players sinking treys for the fired-up hosts. In the second half, Bixby, adjusting to life without injured senior center Meredith Mayes, turned up the heat defensively and received offensive production from numerous players as it opened the half on a 12-0 run for a 45-33 lead at the 5:24 mark of the third period. The Lady Spartans press forced Sand Springs out of its rhythm.
“They were hot, they hit 50 percent from the three-point line in the first half,” said Lady Spartan head coach Tina Thomas. “We just let them have too many wide-open shots. After half we went to the press, and they began rushing their shots … I think that made the difference.”
G. Wernli scored off a layup opening the second half before retiring to the bench with 6:43 left after picking up her third foul. Her younger sister Kate canned a three-point shot for a 38-33 BHS lead before senior guard Gentry Baldwin, who was scoreless in the opening half, swished a three-pointer for her first points of the game, lifting the visitors to a 41-33 lead while quieting the partisan crowd.
Baldwin followed with two more three-point field goals and a pair of layups down the stretch as Bixby built up a 56-42 lead entering the fourth quarter.
“I was tired of not finishing,” Baldwin said. “It definitely helps when I’m struggling early in the game to have Gracy and Kate knocking down shots outside. It’s just something you push through. It helps knowing coach Thomas and my teammates trust me.
“It definitely opened things up for me when I made that first one, mentally making that layup helped me,” said Baldwin. “This just shows you have to show up for every game. They lit it up with threes in the first half, but we knew we had to take that away and we had to up our tempo because we’re a fast-paced team.”
Field goals by junior starting guard Brynn Daniel and sophomore Ama Musick off the bench gave Bixby a 60-42 lead with 7:15 left in the third period. Musick, who scored the Lady Spartans’ final five points of the first half, finished with seven points.
“I just had to be patient and wait for my moment … I just had to do what I can do,” said Musick, a newcomer to Bixby’s program this season. “Having Mere out is definitely different for our team … we all feel it mentally and physically but we’re coming together to pick up the slack.”
The Lady Spartans never let up no matter what players were on the court, outscoring the Lady Sandites 28-8 in the final frame to capture the road victory.
With Mayes’ double-double statistics missing from Bixby’s lineup other players were expected to pick up the slack. The 5-8 Daniel was one of those players. She attacked the boards, finishing with a career high 13 rebounds.
“Definitely, the rebounding was almost 90 percent on me to try to get more of Meredith’s rebounds,” Daniel said afterward. “Coach (Corbin) Burchett told me I needed six rebounds and coach Thomas told me I needed double figures so obviously I was going to shoot for double digits.
“After every shot went up, I was blocking out my girl and going after the rebound. It’s definitely a confidence booster knowing I can do it. I think the press was the turning point tonight,” Daniel noted. “We got steal after steal and we were knocking down our shots. We scored like 50 in the second half.”
G. Wernli, who was called for her fourth foul with 6:34 left in the game, made the most of her time on the floor, leading the Lady Spartans in scoring with 24 points. Nielsen added 17, Baldwin 16 and K. Wernli 12.
“I think Gentry set the tone in the second half and so did Alyssa …that’s what you’d expect of seniors,” coach Thomas said. “Ama gave us good points and good rebounding. She’s going to get better and better the more comfortable she gets in the system. I was very pleased with her.”
Hailey Jackson led Sand Springs in scoring with 16 points.
Bixby 84, Sand Springs 50
Bixby Scoring – Gracy Wernli 24, Alyssa Nielsen 17, Gracy Baldwin 16, Kate Wernli 12, Ama Musick
7, Bailey Wilson 4, Brynn Daniel 2, Sadie Beltran 2.