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El Reno girls complete pursuit of perfection with 28-0 season, Class 5A title

Lady Indians hold off defending champion Sapulpa, 48-41, for program's first championship

NORMAN, OKLAHOMA - At the start of the season, perfection was certainly the farthest thing from the mind of El Reno girls basketball coach Jennifer Douglas.

There were times the team showed inconsistencies during practice, and while Douglas did have concern, she also knew the Lady Indians still had the talent to put things together in the end.

That indeed took place Saturday inside the Lloyd Noble Center, as El Reno made history twofold with its 48-41 win against Sapulpa for the Class 5A championship. With the win, El Reno finished a perfect 28-0 season, and in the process, claimed its program-first state championship.

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“When we were starting scrimmages, they were not playing the way I wanted them to play and the way they could play,” Douglas said. “We kind of talked about we weren’t even going to even talk about a gold ball at the beginning of the year.

“I told them we had to keep focused on what is right in front of us and live in that moment and that’s something we constantly talked about over and over again, win the quarter, win the game, don’t look forward.”

El Reno definitely won the second half of its 5A semifinal against Coweta on Friday, outscoring the Lady Tigers, 33-4. Then, after a back-and-forth start against a Sapulpa team seeking to repeat as state champs, the Lady Indians took control late in the first half.

They went up by six at halftime and extended the lead to 10 two minutes into the second half.

“You see exactly what they did in the second half (against Coweta), they played the way that I know how we can play,” Douglas said. “Then (Saturday), same thing; I told them to live in the moment, play for the person sitting right next to you and play and have fun with your sisters.”

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Sapulpa (23-7) made a push with three minutes left, closing to within four, 40-36, on a 3-pointer from senior Taylor Bilby, who made five treys on the night. But seconds later, El Reno junior guard Raegan Bugaj drove for a basket while drawing the foul, and she completed the three-point play to push the Lady Indians’ lead back to seven.

El Reno added a few more free throws in the final minute, and finally, the Lady Indians were able to claim a gold ball.

“Basically, what we had just talked about with our girls is that they weren’t going to give up, and so we had to make sure we stayed disciplined on defense,” Douglas said. “They also rebound so well, and so we kept talking about every time out, every quarter, we’ve got to make sure we rebound and limit those second and third chance opportunities.”

The Lady Indians got 16 points from junior guard Emmary Elizondo, who went 5-of-6 from the field and 5-of-8 from the line. Her performance was further evidence of Douglas’ belief in her players come crunch time.

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“In the beginning of the season, I wouldn’t say I had a setback, but I was just in a (not-so-good place), so with the help of Coach Douglas and the other coaches, they (preached) positivity and with their help, it really helped me be the player that I played (Saturday),” Elizondo said.

Senior forward Pauline Black-Harmon added 10, as did senior guard Nazhoni Sleeper, who hit three 3’s - all coming in the second quarter.

“She’s definitely somebody that runs the show, she’s our quarterback,” Douglas said of Sleeper. “So a lot of people, sleep, on her and think that she’s not a shooter.

“But really, that girl has been in the gym every day, two to three hours, after practice, so she has turned herself into a shooter.”

Bugaj and junior forward Lilly Thomas rounded out the Lady Indian scoring with six points each.

“The special thing about this team is when you shut one person down, somebody else is going to step up, and that’s what’s so cool, is that all five of my starters are heavy hitters,” Douglas said. “Then you bring two, three people off the bench, and they’re going to play their role, they’re going to do what they’re supposed to do to get the job done, and that’s exactly what we did (Saturday) and that’s how we came out with the win.”

Bilby was the lone Lady Chieftain in double figures with 15 points. They also got nine points from Wrigley Adkisson.

Sapulpa was not only going for a repeat, the Lady Chieftains were going for three titles in four seasons. But it was not meant to be this time on Saturday.

Instead, the Lady Indians - who lost to McAlester two years ago in the 5A title game - finally had their moment in the sun with the gold.

“I would say the whole team coming together as one, what (Douglas) has been talking about every single day either after practice or just one-on-one talking,” Black-Harmon said. “We finally came together and it feels great to have a gold and not silver.”

Photos by Michael Kinney

-- Buck Ringgold | | @SBLiveOK