CASPER – The Lady Bulldogs had lost three straight games heading into the Wyoming 3A state girl’s basketball state consolation bracket at the Ford Wyoming Center. Their record was hovering at only .500 which was the least of all eight teams which made the state tournament.
This made them the Cinderella team.
In their first game of state competition, they faced Lyman who had a record of 17-4. Of those four losses, they came against teams that Wheatland had beaten in the regular season. There was a glimmer of hope as they put on that glass slippered-tennis shoe.
With a win, there was a legitimate shot at playing for a state championship. They started strong and by halftime had built a seven-point lead, 26-19. Although the Eagles came back in the third with a furious fire and shooting 63% in the quarter, the score was deadlocked at 39 apiece. With the “midnight” of the game closing in, the glass slippers were lost somewhere in the middle of a pre-spring snowfall and the Lady Bulldogs were sent packing to the consolation bracket.
In that first game the Lady Bulldogs outrebounded Lyman and had less turnovers, but as their confidence level waned, so did their second half shooting percentage. Leading the scorers for the Bulldogs was Khayla Otero with 12 points followed by Jadea Graves with 11, Miranda Hanks with 9, Kaesha Davis with 6, Alyssa Matthews with 3, Rory Anderson with 2 and Grace Battershell with 1.
They went back to their motel faced with a long bus ride home the next day. The girls woke up the morning of the 12th with a monumental task. They had to win back-to-back games. In the state tournament. To one team that had beaten them last week soundly and to another team that had beaten them three times this year.
The first game would be the state consolation semifinal game against cross-county rival, Torrington who had beaten them in the regional tournament 48-35. Although Wheatland had beaten the Trailblazers twice in the regular season, it looked as though Torrington was peaking and after 3 straight losses, the Bulldogs had lost some confidence. It was a one and done game. Loser goes home. End of story.
Torrington came in with an arrogant swagger and was ready to play their usual “smash-mouth” version of roundball. Wheatland came in with a quiet confidence.
The Trailblazers came loaded for bear and ready to shoot and came hot out of the gate to take an early lead. The Bulldogs chipped away during the last few minutes of the quarter and tied the score at 7-7. It was then that Wheatland uncovered their guns and hit three of their eight 3-point shots. By halftime, the wind had been taken out of the sails of the Blazers and Wheatland held a lead they never relinquished. At the end of the third quarter the lead was 43-26 and they coasted to a birth in the state consolation championship game.
Someone found that the glass tennis shoes were fitting quite nicely.
Matthews who had the game of her life ended up with 16 points and went 10-12 from the field including hitting 4-4 from the 3-point arc. Davis, the other shooting guard hit three long range shots and also had 16 points for the game. Nine Lady Bulldogs scored to seal the deal.
That was the morning of the 12th. There would then be a five-hour layover to think about facing Newcastle again who had dominated Wheatland all season long and had won all three games in previous meetings. Some said it would take a miracle. The girls were looking for the Disney ending.
Instead of going through the front end of the bracket where they would have had to face undefeated Douglas and their juggernaut Alyson Fertig, they would play in the Wyoming state 3A consolation championship game and chance to walk away from their last game with a win. Few kids walk of their high school court for the final time with a victory. Very rare. But our seniors will always have that memory.
The Newcastle Dogies had been playing well and only lost to Lander Valley by four in their chance to play Douglas in the finals. A strong showing in the semifinals showed that they were looking to take some hardware home. And how hard could it be? They had already proved their dominance in three games over Wheatland. It was just a matter of going through the motions, playing the game, accepting the trophy and going home. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
But when they dealt Cinderella lemons, the girls made lemonade.
Newcastle found out from the start that Wheatland was not the same team they beat by 20 points only six days earlier. The Dogs dug in and after the first quarter they were tied at 8 apiece. Newcastle had a few good runs in the next two quarters but the deficit was never more than 3 points when the quarter buzzer sounded.
By the fourth quarter it was a dog-fight and with only seconds to play, the Bulldogs found themselves down by three points. Just about the time the Dogies were breathing a sigh of relief and were poised to take a victory lap, all-state guard Khayla Otero banked in a three-point shot to tie the game and send it into overtime.
In that extra period, the game was back and forth, but an early basket by Davis put the lead just out of reach for the Newcastle girls. Wheatland survived attack after attack and then the worst-case scenario happened with 1:37 left in the overtime period and Wheatland clinging to a four point 41-37 lead.
Otero fouled out. An awkward foul. Some said no foul, but the call was made and Otero would spend the last game of her high school career on the bench. It was Newcastle’s opening. They chipped away and with 34 seconds left to play, the Dogies had made it a one-point game at 42-41. They also had the ball and a chance to go 4-0 against the Bulldogs for the year.
Matthews who was the hero in the Torrington game came up with the steal of her life, passed the ball to Davis who was immediately fouled and went to the line for two. She converted both to make the game a 3-point contest. It was ever in the minds of the Lady Dogs at this point that Newcastle in the regional tournament had hit 10 three-point shots against them, and they once again dug deep and, on this day, sealed the perimeter.
A three-point shot came off the rim hard where Davis, one of the smallest players on the court pulled the rebound and was fouled again. She converted again. And history was made by this Cinderella team who at the beginning of the year was not given a chance to have a good season, much less go to state.
They just didn't know how to give up. And as a result they are the Consolation State Champions having won 2 of 3 games at state-level competition. The old saying says, if the shoe fits…
Every pair fit perfectly. Cinderella Bulldogs prevailed. They got their fairy-tale ending.
For the game, the two senior guards who had been like clockwork all year long led the team in scoring with 14 points apiece. Matthews followed with six, Hanks had five, Kacey Otero had 4, Graves had 2, and Anderson had one. The girls ended their season with a 13-11 record and got to put up a banner on the west wall for being consolation state champions.
Congratulations to both Davis and Khayla Otero for being chosen all-conference and also to Otero for being chosen as an all-state player.
“Our program had a remarkable season this year,” said second-year varsity coach Michelle Coplen. “A team’s goal for the season is always to make it to state, and these girls achieved that and more. Despite losing a tough game with Lyman the first round, the girls were not going to give up easily. They came back the next morning to take on Torrington and then finish the week with Newcastle. But the girls were determined to end the season with a win! Our program will miss our eight seniors including our 2 managers. They have put it in much time and dedication to get them to end of their high school basketball career. As we move on with the program, we are looking forward to growing skill sets from our younger players. We have speed coming up so our game may look a little different next year.”
The Lady Bulldogs have made Wheatland proud. This is a very special group with incredible chemistry. Starting chemistry, practice chemistry, bench chemistry and cheer chemistry.