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Relentless Lady Spartans Meet Norman in Area Tournament – Presented by Excel Therapy

By RON HOLT

The team word for Bixby’s Lady Spartan basketballers this season is – according to head coach Tina Thomas – resolve.

Relentless could become the Lady Spartans playoff word after their performance in the Class 6A Region 4 tournament in Whitey Ford Field House last week.

Bixby (18-7) realized the sense of urgency when it comes playoff time as the energized Lady Spartans rolled past Enid 76-21 in the regional opener last Thursday before defeating Owasso for the third time this season 74-22 to win the regional championship last Saturday afternoon.

The Lady Spartans advance in the winners’ bracket to the Class 6A Area Tournament Thursday, March 2, at Kellyville High’s gymnasium. Bixby faces a familiar foe – the Norman Lady Tigers (19-4) – at 6 p.m.

The Bixby-Norman winner advances to the Class 6A State Tournament while the loser plays the winner of a 7:30 p.m. losers’ bracket game at Kellyville involving Jenks (14-10) and Choctaw (16-7) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Sapulpa. 

In the 2020-21 season, Norman capped off an unbeaten season by turning back the youthful Lady Spartans 48-37 in the Class 6A state championship game at Oral Roberts University’s Mabee Center.

The current Lady Tigers dominated as hosts of the Region 3 Tournament last week. NHS beat Muskogee 71-32 and routed Sand Springs 63-36 in the championship game.

“We understand the challenge we face in Norman … we’ll have to earn our stripes. It’s good to have that one under our belt rolling into Area,” Coach Thomas said of the Owasso win.

Enid scored the game’s first field goal before Bixby went on a 12-0 run followed by a 6-0 run late to lead 18-5 after one quarter. Gracy Wernli hit six points, Alyssa Nielsen and Gentry Baldwin five each and Kate Wernli two during the opening quarter.

Leading 23-7, the Lady Spartans outscored the Pacers 17-2 during the final four minutes of the stanza in coasting to a 40-9 intermission lead. Baldwin canned eight points, Nielsen four, Ama Musick three and G. Wernli two down the stretch in ending the drama in the regional opener.

“At this time of the season every win is a great win … half the teams went home tonight and we’re still getting to practice,” coach Thomas said after the Enid win. “I thought we had a balanced attack and Alyssa had her second double-double in a row. All the kids are stepping up and picking up the slack.

“They just want to win, whatever it takes. We’ll clean some things up and hit it hard Saturday (against Owasso).”

 G. Wernli led the Lady Spartans in scoring with 24 points while Baldwin drained five three-pointers in finishing with 19 points and Nielsen contributed 13 points and 11 rebounds. Jasia Malolo’s six points led Enid (8-16).

In the championship contest the opponent was again first on the scoreboard before the relentless Lady Spartans put on a defensive clinic along with going on an 11-0 run to build up an 11-2 lead over Owasso with 4:20 showing in the first stanza.

After a six-minute drought the Lady Rams’ Jayelle Austin scored her fourth point with 1:58 left before a three-pointer by G. Wernli with 1:44 showing handed Bixby a 14-4 first quarter lead.

With the defense forcing numerous turnovers, Bixby kept attacking offensively to take a 26-10 halftime lead. At the end of the second quarter, Nielsen snared a rebound and fired a pass to G. Wernli who banked in a field goal with one second left. That play summed up Bixby’s aggressive, attacking performance.

“That was definitely a point of emphasis,” G. Wernli said of Bixby’s defensive approach. “A lot of times our first goal is defense because I feel like our offense comes pretty naturally … we get a lot of energy off defensive stops.

“They always say it’s hard to beat a team three times, so we just went out and played hard, we wanted it so bad especially since our last game (39-37 win) with them didn’t feel like a win. We’re excited and ready to go back to work,” she added.

Bixby’s defense and offense picked up where it left off in the third quarter as the Lady Spartans extended their lead to 46-22 entering the fourth quarter. Bixby sealed the win as it outscored the Lady Rams 28-0 in the final stanza.

Baldwin, the Lady Spartans’ veteran point guard, played one of her career best games in her last game on the Whitey Ford hardwood. She scored 13 points, finished with nine steals and six assists. She disrupted Lady Ram plans from start to finish.
“The girls just played with a ton of heart and tenacity … they wanted it,” coach Thomas after the regional title win. “Rebounding was the primary focus because the last time we played them that was probably the ‘it’ factor.

“We’ve been focusing on playing four quarters and I thought the girls had a phenomenal effort. Gentry’s deflections, steals and getting her 1,000th point was incredible and another special time for this group,” coach Thomas added.

Baldwin, who was recognized afterward for surpassing 1,000 points in her career, joined senior teammates G. Wernli and Nielsen in that elite club. She, however, noted her thoughts were on playing well and emerging victorious. 

“I felt very aggressive today. The last time we played them I laid back on defense and I knew if I pressured the ball I could create more offense for us,” said Baldwin while battling loss of her voice. “It’s hard to beat a team three times so that was an emphasis.

“The last time we played them was a two-point win, we knew we needed to be more aggressive and not let them get into their flow. I didn’t want me being so close to 1,000 points to be a focal point in the game. I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” she noted.

G. Wernli continued her offensive efficiency, leading the Lady Spartans in scoring with 24 points. Nielsen finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Junior guard Brynn Daniel recorded five rebounds and four steals. Austin led Owasso (13-11) with 10 points.

BIXBY 76, ENID 21

(Thursday, Feb. 23)

Bixby Scoring – Gracy Wernli 24, Gentry Baldwin 19, Alyssa Nielsen 13, Kate Wernli 7, Ama Musick 7, Bailey Wilson 4, Brynn Daniel 2.

Enid Scoring – Jasia Malolo 6, Kirya Mack 5, Kyra Criss 4, Taylor Woods 3, Kiara Morrris 2, Aryonna Mejia 1.

BIXBY 74, OWASSO 22

(Championship, Saturday, Feb. 25)

Bixby Scoring – Gracy Wernli 24, Alyssa Nielsen 20, Gentry Baldwin 13, Kate Wernli 9, Brynn Daniel 2, Ama Musick 2, Bailey Wilson 2, Kate Datel 2.Owasso Scoring – Jayelle Wilson 10, Alex McGarrah 4, Makenna Yokley 3, Kynlie Wilson 3, Addy Pruitt 2.

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