By Ron Holt
TULSA – With the Class 6A basketball playoffs on the horizon, Bixby’s Lady Spartans understood the need to raise their level of play after struggling two games prior to the regular season finale at Booker T. Washington last Friday night.
The Lady Spartans, 16-7, responded with a dominating offensive, defensive and rebounding performance in capturing a 64-49 Frontier Valley Conference victory over the Lady Hornets (17-5) in front of a large Nate Harris Field House crowd.
In avenging an early season 54-47 loss to Booker T. Washington, the Lady Spartans led from start to finish, turning in one of the more complete efforts this season. The timing couldn’t have been better. Bixby hopes to carry this momentum into the playoffs starting this week.
The Lady Spartans host the Class 6A Region 4 Tournament Thursday (Feb. 23) through Saturday (Feb. 25) at Whitey Ford Field House. Owasso (12-10) plays Deer Creek-Edmond (7-15) in the regional opener at 6 p.m. Thursday. Bixby takes on Enid (8-15) at 7:30 p.m.
The two winners advance to the regional championship game at 2 p.m. Saturday while the season ends for the two losers.
After a narrow home win over Owasso and a road loss to Class 5A’s top-ranked Sapulpa (19-2) prior to visiting the talented Lady Hornets, Bixby refocused as a team. The renewed commitment was obvious early as the Lady Spartans were the aggressors on both ends of the court and reenergized their efforts on the boards.
“That looked like a team poised to make a run in the playoffs … that’s exactly what I wanted to see,” Lady Spartan head coach Tina Thomas said afterward. “Playing Sapulpa and Booker T was great preparation for the playoffs.
“The girls did the little things and I thought they rebounded with a passion. I was pleased. We played good defense, we didn’t turn the ball over and were more patient … they stepped up and did an excellent job tonight.”
Trailing 3-0, Bixby outscored the Lady Hornets 20-9 in claiming a 20-12 first quarter lead. Senior guard Gracy Wernli sank three three-point field goals in the surge while Gentry Baldwin scored five points, junior Brynn Daniel four points and Alyssa Nielsen a jumper.
The Lady Hornets battled back early in the second quarter scoring seven straight points opening the second half, trimming the deficit to 20-19. Again, the Lady Spartans caught fire, outscoring the hosts 15-5 down the stretch. When Daniel drained a three-pointer with one second left Bixby took a 35-24 into the halftime break.
Besides Daniel’s late heroics during the second quarter run, Kate Wernli hit five points, Nielsen had four and Baldwin swished a trey.
“After the Sapulpa game I didn’t play well so I knew I needed to come out and get every rebound I could and knock down open shots,” said Daniel, who finished with seven points. “It gave me a lot of confidence that my teammates were hyping me up when I made a shot.
“We jumped on them early tonight and that helped our momentum. Coming out for the second half we started putting more pressure on them. It was very important to play well tonight,” she added.
Bixby kept padding its lead in the third quarter using an 8-2 run late to carry a 53-33 lead into the final quarter. Nothing changed in the fourth quarter as the Lady Spartans matched the Lady Hornets scoring.
Baldwin, who sank five treys, led the balanced Lady Spartan attack with 21 points. G. Wernli finished with 14 points, Nielsen had 12 points, K. Wernli had 11 and Daniel seven. Nielsen had a double-double, recording 10 rebounds as the Lady Spartans won the board battle by double figures.
The Lady Hornets were led by Marcayla Johnson’s 28 points.
“That was a great win. Our energy was one of the biggest parts of how we played tonight. And Brynn hitting a couple of shots early on so they had to get out on her really helped us,” said Baldwin. “We moved the ball well and played really good defense.
“Every person on our team made the extra pass to get a better shot … I thought we played great together. The Sapulpa game we boarded really poor, and our coaches let us know that’s not okay. I think we flipped it around this game. We got the boys helping out in practice this week, we worked a lot on offensive boards against the guys.
“I think the best thing about this game wasn’t just the score, it was that every single person did the job … it was a complete team effort,” she added.
The Lady Spartans turn their focus to the regional playoffs with a goal of returning to the state tournament for the third straight season. The focus now is on Enid.
“We’re worried about Enid and focusing on them … we’ll not look one minute past that next game. We’re going to work to get better every day,” coach Thomas stressed.
SAPULPA 56, BIXBY 48
After a tense first half battle left Bixby holding a 29-27 lead at intermission, Sapulpa, which held a decisive rebound edge, took over in the second half in disappointing the Lady Spartans 56-48 in a Frontier Valley Conference game in Sapulpa’s Chieftain Center last Tuesday night.
Trailing 10-6 early, Bixby used a three-pointer by G. Wernli, a three-point play by Baldwin and a jumper by Nielsen to give BHS a 14-10 lead before the Lady Chieftains rallied to tie the game at 14-all after one quarter. Back-to-back jumpers by Nielsen lifted Bixby to a 29-21 lead with three minutes left but Sapulpa scored the final six points of the half to trail 29-27 at halftime.
SHS dominated the third quarter, outscoring the visitors 12-7 to take a 39-36 lead into the fourth quarter. An early drive by Baldwin made it a 39-38 game with 7:38 left before Sapulpa’s 5-7 junior guard Taylor Bilby scored decisive buckets midway through the final quarter to allow the Lady Chieftains to withstand a final Lady Spartan charge.
Bilby swished three consecutive three-point field goals, the last coming at the 5:02 mark as Sapulpa led 48-41. Field goals by Bixby’s K. Wernli and Baldwin and two free throws by G. Wernli narrowed Sapulpa’s advantage to 48-46 with 3:29 left.
Field goals by senior Stailee Heard and Riki McQuarters handed Sapulpa a 52-46 lead with 2:32 left. A drive by sophomore Ama Musick with 46 seconds left got Bixby within 52-48 but free throws by S. Heard and Tyla Heard down the stretch sealed the win for Sapulpa.
“I thought at times we executed well but the fact is they just killed us on rebounds,” Bixby’s coach Thomas said. “And Bilby shot the ball well, she was impeccable tonight. Nine points in the fourth quarter gave them a boost.
“Unless we rebound better. we’re going to have problems. Rebounding is just a want-to. In the third quarter it was a 10-2 rebound ratio which allowed them to put it away … their second scoring opportunities killed us.”
G. Wernli led Bixby in scoring with 18 points while Baldwin finished with 12 points. Nielsen, who scored eight points, led the Lady Spartans in rebounding with 12 rebounds.
SAPULPA 56, BIXBY 48
(Tuesday, Feb. 14)
Bixby Scoring – Gracy Wernli 18, Gentry Baldwin 12, Alyssa Nielsen 8, Kate Wernli 8, Ama Musick 2.
BIXBY 65, WASHINGTON 49
(Friday, Feb. 17)Bixby Scoring – Gentry Baldwin 21, Gracy Wernli 14, Alyssa Nielsen 13, Kate Wernli 10, Brynn Daniel 7.