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Lady Racers face Anadarko in Class 4A state tournament

The Newcastle girls’ basketball team is headed to the Class 4A state tournament once again this season under head coach Brett Sanders. But, it certainly wasn’t an easy road to to the tourney.

Newcastle lost to Classen SAS, 53-34, last Friday at the Warrior Event Center at Washington High School. Classen SAS opened up a huge lead after the first quarter, 19-4. It was 33-9 in favor of the Lady Comets at halftime.

In the third quarter, Classen SAS opened up its biggest lead at 28 points when the score was 41-13 with 4:17 to go in the period.

The Lady Racers, though, tried to come back as they went on a 13-0 run over the third and fourth quarters. It was 41-26 in the fourth quarter with 6:27 remaining. Karley Johnson led Newcastle with 15 points.

“I thought we had a good second half,” Sanders said. “But, we didn’t execute the game plan tonight at the start of the game. In the second half, we did a good job. We tried to force things upon them but they are too good of athletes and ball players. They are a great team. They were ready for us and they knew our girls.”

Sanders went to explain what happened: “After we got into a flow in the second half, we outscored them by five points. But, it was too little, too late. First half wasn’t pretty for u s . They’re all good players. You can’t slump off on any of them because everybody can shoot on that team, everybody can penetrate, and everyone can post up. They are legitimate and I think they could win the state championship in any Oklahoma class.”

Indeed, the victory for Classen SAS (ranked No. 2 in Class 4A with a 22-3 record) propelled them into the Class 4A state tournament. After Friday’s loss, Newcastle faced the Muldrow Lady Bulldogs last Saturday at Washington.

The Lady Racers were playing Muldrow for the second time in the tournament. Previously, Newcastle beat the Lady Bulldogs, 36-22, in the regional tournament at North Rock Creek High School in Shawnee.

Last Saturday, Newcastle beat Muldrow, 38-30, following another rough first half. The Lady Racers were down, 7-3, after the first quarter. They cut that Muldrow lead down to one point, 12-11, at halftime.

Muldrow (who finished 24-4 and ranked No. 6 in Class 4A under head coach Jana Armer) simply became weary and ran out of gas in the second half — and Newcastle pounced on the chance.

Grace Rehl led Newcastle against Muldrow with 10 points while Reagon Fox had nine points. Piper Houghton and Johnson each had seven points in the win over the Lady Bulldogs.

“We played a darn good Muldrow tonight for the second time,” Sanders said of the Lady Bulldogs, who played for the Class 4A state title last year against Anadarko but lost, 54-49. “We were lucky to win last week. It feels awesome to go back to state.”

For Sanders, this will be his fourth trip to the state tournament with the Racers since he was hired in 2013. Sanders led Cache to the Class 4A state championship in 2010 and Anadarko to the Class 4A state title in 2005. He led the Lady Racers to the Class 4A state crown in 2016.

“We battled through a lot of adversity this year,” Sanders said. “We had lots of ankle injuries and several other things that happened to us. We had to battle through them this year. I’m proud of the girls for focusing after we were down tonight, 7-0. We stuck to our game plan. We didn’t shoot the ball great. But, we still stuck to the game plan. I’m just proud of our girls and the way they were ready tonight. They weren’t ready to go home, yet.”

Sanders’ players did all of the little things right against Muldrow.

“Grace Rehl did an amazing job tonight,” Sanders said. “Our rotation and taking charges was excellent. Karley stepped out and took charge after charge after charge. She has a heart for the game of basketball. Our seniors really stepped up tonight. Piper came in and made the ‘three’ off the bench when Madison (Barnett) got into foul trouble. Jenna (Gilbertson) did a good job of subbing in. Grace, of course, did her part the whole way though. Simply, it was beautiful basketball toward the end.”

Newcastle (18-9 and ranked No. 10 in Class 4A) will face the Anadarko Lady Warriors at 3:30 p.m. today (March 12) at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany. Anadarko is the team to beat again this year at the state tournament. The Lady Warriors are 26-1 and ranked No. 1 in Class 4A under head coach Jeff Zinn.

“We got to get a couple of girls healthy with their ankles,” Sanders said. “We’re playing Anadarko in the first game at state. They are small but quick. They are great shooters. Anadarko is No. 1 this year and they won it all last year. We’ll have to put our game shoes to win the first game. It’s always a pleasure facing Anadarko for me.”

Anadarko beat the Lady Racers, 56-51, back on Jan. 7 at Newcastle. Sanders’ time with the Lady Warriors’ program offers him fond memories. But, when Newcastle faces Anadarko on Thursday, his heart will, of course, belong to Newcastle.

“There are absolutely no ill feelings toward them,” Sanders added about Anadarko, who beat Newcastle, 77-58, in the first round of the state tourney last year. “I love them and still know all the parents and kids. If we’re not playing them, I’d like for them to win. I’ve got relatives who still live in the Anadarko area. They treated me very well in my 12 years there and their coach does a great job with his players. It’s going to be tough but we’ll try to handle them.”

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