Barry Lewis: Weleetka boys ready to take next step at state tournament
BY BARRY LEWIS World Sports Writer
Thursday, February 28, 2013
2/28/13 at 4:54 AM
Go to Barry Lewis' BlogOriginal Print Headline: Weleetka: Getting there just part of the goal
WELEETKA enters the Class A boys state basketball tournament on Thursday in a different position than in the previous two seasons.
"Two years ago we were just happy to be there," coach Brett Thomas said.
While Weleetka was a big surprise to reach the 2011 state tournament, last year the Outlaws expected to have some success there and defeated Glencoe in the first round before losing 26-25 to eventual champion Cheyenne in the semifinals.
This year, Weleetka (25-2) enters ranked No. 1 and is a slight favorite in the tournament that will have first-round games at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany.
"One is just a number," Thomas said. "It doesn't mean anything right now."
Weleetka's opening opponent is No. 8 Laverne (22-6) at 8:30 p.m.
"Laverne is very good defensively and a solid team," Thomas said.
Jeremiah Winney, a 6-foot-4 forward, is Weleetka's only senior. Winney averages 14.6 points and 5.6 rebounds. The rest of the starting lineup is filled with juniors, led by Montana Gormly, a 6-1 guard who averages 15.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Other starters are Shaun Bencoma (9.7 scoring average), Caleb Wittman (8.9) and Jackson Frye (7.6). The top reserves are freshmen - forwards Chance Hawkins and Calvin Wittman.
"We're a pretty balanced scoring team," Thomas said. "Our opponents can't focus on just stopping one player." Weleetka's only two losses were in Oklahoma's Tournament of Champions - 67-56 to 6A defending champion Union and 63-44 to 3A No. 4 Verdigris.
"Playing in that tournament was a big help for us," Thomas said.
Weleetka would not face Cheyenne or Glencoe until the title game. Cheyenne (23-6) and Glencoe (28-1) meet in the most intriguing first-round matchup at 3:30 p.m.
More interesting matchups: Coweta will face Edison officially for the first time since the 2008 Bristow Invitational semifinals when they meet in the Class 5A area boys final at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Sapulpa.
Both coaches, Coweta's Scott Norris and Edison's Michael Parish, remember that meeting from five years ago very well. Coweta pulled off a 59-57 upset that night in dramatic fashion as Edison standout Mark Rutledge missed a 3-pointer with four seconds left, Coweta's Chris Winfield grabbed the rebound and fed Troy Smith for the winning layup at the buzzer.
"It was a big win for those kids because they had not experienced a lot of success and Edison was a team that was going to state tournaments," said Norris, who was in the early stages of rebuilding Coweta's program.
The loss stung the Eagles at that time but it was helpful in the long run. Edison faced the same situation two months later in the 5A state tournament quarterfinals.
"Because of what happened against Coweta, Mark knew not to take the last shot too early," Parish said.
Rutledge swished a 3-pointer as time expired to give Edison a 63-60 win over Harrah - the first state tournament victory for Parish. Edison is trying to reach the state tournament for the sixth time in seven years.
Coweta, after losing twice in the area tournament last year, is looking for its first state tournament appearance in this century.
"Our kids believe in each other and we're excited because we don't feel like we've peaked yet," Norris said.
Norris said Coweta and Edison did meet a few years ago in an Oral Roberts University team camp.
In another interesting boys area matchup, rivals Jenks and Union meet at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Catoosa. The two teams last had a playoff encounter in a 2010 regional opener that Jenks won 47-43. In 2006, Jenks edged Union 47-44 in an area final at Catoosa, but Union avenged that with a 50-42 win the next week in the state semifinals.
For the third straight year, Bixby will play Stillwater in the Friday area losers bracket game. Bixby has won thrillers in the two previous games, 52-51 on Jacob Parker's buzzer-beater in 2011 and 48-46 last year en route to state tournament berths. This year's game will be at 8 p.m. at Rogers.
Memorial and Bishop Kelley, schools located only two miles apart, will meet in the boys basketball playoffs for the first time in a 5A regional final at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Bixby.
State tournament telecasts: All of the Class A and B state tournament title games on Saturday will be streamed on FoxSportsOklahoma.com, and Cox Communications will webcast early rounds from State Fair Arena on Thursday and Friday.
On March 9, all the 6A and 5A state title games from Mabee Center will be televised on the Cox-Channel 3, while all the 4A through 2A state title games at State Fair Arena will be on Fox Sports Oklahoma Plus.