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Sapulpa girls basketball team runs away with Tournament of Champions title

Chieftains score game's first eight points and build 18-point halftime lead against Missouri school

By George Mitchell 

FORT SMITH, Ark. — Sapulpa jumped to an early lead and didn’t relent as the Oklahoma squad became the second out-of-state team in four years to win the Taco Bell Tournament of Champions held at Fort Smith Northside High School on Saturday by defeating Carl Junction (Mo.), 82-59.

The Chieftains went up 8-0 before Carl Junction was able to get on the board. Sapulpa continued to add to its lead throughout the first half and led 44-26 at the break.

“We knew this was going to be very challenging,” said Sapulpa coach Darlean Calip. “We had different things to adjust to because each team has a different style of play, and each officiating crew is different. So, this gave us opportunities to learn how to adjust. Hopefully, this will prepare us later on in the season when we start to make our run for the state playoffs in Oklahoma.

“We grew up so much in these three games. It will make it better down the stretch and give us more confidence when we get back home. It’ll also make my job a little bit easier.”

Sapulpa was a Class 5A semifinalist in Oklahoma last season.

Carl Junction wasn’t without its fight and was able to cut into Sapulpa’s lead and trailed 48-40 with 4:29 left in the third quarter. However, another Chieftain run had the Oklahoma squad back in a double-digit lead, 55-42, at the 2:52 mark, that it wouldn’t relinquish for the duration of the contest.

“We had a lot of fun, but it was unfortunate that we couldn’t get that last win,” said Carl Junction coach Brad Shorter. “I’m proud of them, and I think we grew up a little bit down here.

"Our kids understand some things now. Each team we faced brought something different for us to learn. We’ll go back much better than when we came down here. So, we’re excited about that.”

Carl Junction was a Class 5 quarterfinalist in Missouri's state tournament last season. In addition to returning Destiny Buerge, the team also returned Kylie Scott, who averaged 13 points and 11 rebounds as a sophomore last season.

The squad could not start Scott, who had just two minutes of game time. Scott had a double-double on her first night of the tournament and had four points and eight rebounds in the semifinal game against Bergman.

“I think not being able to start Kylie kind of took the wind out of our sails,” Shorter said. “She gives us another player we can depend upon, and they know how important she is. We came out flat, and I told the girls there was no reason to be like that, and we should go out, have fun, play hard, and challenge them a little bit.

“We could stop a few of their runs and played much harder in the second half to get back into the game. That was a killer when they made the run late in the third quarter.”

Sapulpa had three players reach double digits, and another had nine points.

Junior Tyla Heard had a team-high 23 points and 12 rebounds. Stailee Heard, an Oklahoma State signee, added 22 points and nine rebounds. Taylor Bilby had 11 points, and Raegan McQuarters tossed in nine.

“We are ahead of schedule of where we were at this time last season,” Calip said. “We have three fearless freshmen who are not afraid of anybody.

"Last year at the state tournament, I was trying to get two of my starters to shoot. I don’t have to tell this team to get after it on offense or defense, making it much more fun to coach.”

The Chieftains reached the finals after defeating host Northside with a last-second shot in the semifinals. The coach was “a little concerned” about her team after such a high-energy game, but Tyla Heard said they knew what they had to do.

“We just had to come out and dominate,” Tyla Heard said. “We couldn’t let up. We couldn’t underestimate anybody. We just came out with the same intensity as the night before.

"We like to play fast, hard, and hustle up and down the court. We want to play our game and make them play our game.”

Buerge, a senior, led the game with 39 points, and sophomore Dezi Williams had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Buerge averaged 23 points a game last season but finished the tournament with 106 (35 points per game).

Shorter expects Buerge to reach the 3,000-career point plateau this season.

The last non-Arkansas team to win the Taco Bell Tournament of Champions was Oklahoma’s Classen SAS in 2019. 

In the third-place game, Bergman (Ark.) defeated Fort Smith Northside, 46-45.

Jones 57, Lamar (Ark.) 41

Senior Zoe Tucker scored 16 points as the Longhorns took the fifth-place game.

Senior Boston Berry added 12, and junior Kasia Hansen tossed in 11 for Jones.

Back-to-back baskets by senior Morgan Cochran and sophomore Kori Sanders early in the game put Lamar up 8-6 at the 2:01 mark. Jones outscored the Warriors, 9-2, the rest of the quarter to take the lead for good.

Stilwell 54, Fort Smith Southside (Ark.) 42

The Mavericks hung close for the first half, but Stilwell pulled ahead in the third to win the seventh-place game.

Southside junior Sophia Neihouse hit a late basket to cut Stilwell’s lead to two, 29-27, before halftime, but Stilwell launched into a 9-2 run to start the third quarter and didn’t look back.

Junior Snowda Waite led the game with 17 points for Stilwell, and Kinley Johnson added 14.