Bixby’s Lady Spartans took a giant step forward last week after hosting two top-10 Class 6A girls’ basketball teams.
Playing without starter Alyssa Nielsen last Tuesday, Feb. 11, the Lady Spartans battled to the final horn before falling to third-ranked Booker T. Washington, 51-50.
With Neilsen back on the floor Friday, Feb. 14, the Lady Spartans made key plays down the stretch in capturing a 42-36 victory over sixth-ranked Tulsa Union (16-5) in Whitey Ford Field House.
Bixby closes the regular season with two games this week against unranked opponents – Tuesday (Feb. 18) at Broken Arrow and hosts Muskogee Friday (Feb. 21).
The two victories lifted 10th-ranked Bixby to 13-8 on the season but, more importantly, created momentum moving forward as it wraps up the regular season next week and enters the playoffs the following week. There were signs last week that this youth-laden squad is maturing.
“Tonight, we took a step in the right direction. I feel we got better … we narrowed the gap,” Bixby head coach Tina Thomas said following the Washington game.
“We’ve been doing really good with executing and staying within our game day philosophy … I thought we did a really good job of that tonight,” an elated coach Thomas said following the Union victory.
Bixby, which was turned back by Union in the season opener, fell behind midway through the first stanza before Gracy Wernli hit a three-pointer and Alyssa Nielsen scored off an assist from Kate Bradley to give BHS a 7-5 first period lead.
The two combined again in the final 47 seconds of the second quarter - Nielsen inside and Wernli outside to trim a 20-14 deficit to 20-18 at intermission. Bixby took control in the second half, leading by 32-27 going into the fourth quarter.
Leading 38-36 in the final minutes, Nielsen grabbed a huge rebound after a free throw attempt by teammate Meredith Mayes bounced off the rim. “She (Union’s Jayla Burgess) gave me a little space and I got a lucky bounce and was able to jump up and grab it,” Nielsen said. Regaining possession allowed Bixby to control the ball until Union was forced to foul with 1:07 left.
Wernli sank one of two free throws for a 39-36 lead and the talented freshman rebounded a missed point-blank field goal attempt by Union’s Sydni Smith with 50 seconds left. Nielsen sank one of two free throws with 32 seconds left before Bradley sealed the win by swishing two charity tries with 13 seconds showing.
“You feel some pressure when it’s just you up there, but in that moment, you don’t think about it,” Bradley, a junior, said afterward. “I knew I had to hit them. This was a big momentum change for us going into the regionals.
“Getting the win over Union, especially after losing to them in the first game of the season in another close game shows how much we’ve grown from that game … it shows how much better we’ve gotten,” Bradley added.
Nielsen, who missed the Washington game because of illness, and Wernli each scored 11 points to pace Bixby’s offensive effort. Bradley ended with seven, Deonna Owens six, Mayes five and Gentry Baldwin two.
“It was really tough to miss that game (Washington) because I knew it was a big game. But, I trusted my teammates and knew they could handle it. I was eager to get back on the court tonight,” said Nielsen, who celebrated her 15th birthday. “This was huge, especially for momentum going into the playoffs. It was a good game for us.”
The Bixby-Washington game was a competitive, back-and-forth affair from start to finish. A three-pointer by Wernli gave Bixby a 14-13 first quarter lead while the Lady Hornets held a 28-26 halftime advantage.
Washington was hot opening the third quarter, increasing its lead to 35-26 before Wernli drained a trey and Avery King scored twice from in close to narrow the deficit to 35-33 entering the fourth quarter.
Bixby caught fire in the fourth stanza, scoring eight straight points – three by Bradley, two by King and Wernli and a free throw by Mayes for a 41-35 lead with 4:28 remaining.
Washington’s Wyvette Mayberry, who led her team in scoring with 12 points, then made her presence known, scoring six straight points to tie the game at 41-all while sinking a three-pointer, sandwiched around three free teammate free throws to give the visitors a 47-43 lead with 36 seconds left.
A bucket by Baldwin and two free throws by Mayes trimmed the Lady Hornets’ lead to 49-48 before Washington’s Carrigan Hall, who hit six fourth quarter free throws, sank two charities for a 51-48 BTW lead with 16 seconds left.
Bradley answered by canning two free throws with nine seconds left, making it a 51-50 game. Washington turned the ball over with seven seconds left but the Lady Spartans failed to attempt a final shot as the Lady Hornets survived a hectic finish.
“We had a shot. Those little chippers we missed early in the game could have made a difference. I thought the kids competed hard. I thought they grew and matured in this game … this game got us playoff ready,” Coach Thomas said.
“With Alyssa out sick I thought Meredith and Avery both stepped up and filled a huge void. Gracy shot the ball well tonight and we hit some free throws at the end to keep us in the game.”
Mayes had her finest varsity game, finishing with a double-double on a game-high 16 points and 18 rebounds. Wernli contributed 14 points followed by Bradley with eight and King and Baldwin with six each.
“Coach said we needed to pick it up for Alyssa being out because she’s a huge part of our team … I knew I needed to play hard,” Mayes said. “We played with confidence tonight and this game showed us that we are always in it. We realize that if one person is down, we’ve got to pick them up … everyone was up tonight.”