By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Inside a relatively quiet Paul J. Outhier Field House on a sleepy, rainy Wednesday night at Chisholm High School, Longhorn boys basketball coach Cody Spurlock led his team in a practice before empty stands, the most excitement coming from a brand new, stylized mat for Chisholm’s student section to pound out intimidation to visiting teams.
In little more than 12 hours, the silence — interrupted only by the rhythmic thunk-thunk of basketballs pounding at a practice pace — will be replaced by fans of eight teams jockeying to be the loudest in the 44th annual Wheat Capital Tournament scheduled to open at 10:30 a.m. today.
“It gets loud, and a lot of times, in those late games especially, and in the finals, you can hardly find a seat,” Spurlock said. “It’s state tournament atmosphere many times in the Wheat Capital, so it’s fun."
Unless you happen to be a team in the bracket, of course. The 44th rendition of the Wheat Capital Tournament boasts one of the most challenging brackets in recent memory.
Schedule for Thursday games is as follows: Girls: 10:30 a.m., Kingfisher vs. Pioneer; 1:30, Blackwell vs. Alva; 3:50, Perry vs. Chisholm; 6:30, Fairview vs. Guymon. Boys: 11:50, Pioneer vs. Alva; 2:30, Perry vs. Fairview; 5:10, Blackwell vs. Guymon; 7:50, Kingfisher vs. Chisholm
Alva (8-1) and Fairview (9-1) are favored to meet in the final game of the girls field, the two 2A teams boasting the field’s only two nods by OKrankings.com.
Fairview, which won its last road game 54-21 against host Chisholm on Friday, enters play ranked No. 3 in 2A, just ahead of No. 6 Alva.
Alva won the teams’ only matchup this season, beating the Lady Jackets 67-52 in Fairview behind a career-high 24 from super frosh Jaden Hobbs, who leads the team with 18 points per game and is among the must-see players in the Wheat Capital field.
The homestanding Lady Longhorns are the field’s only other winning team at 6-4, thanks in large part to sophomore Megan Galusha’s team-best 15.1 points per game, and Pioneer is the only .500 team, earning a win Tuesday to pull to 4-4, tying last season’s win total.
“The favorite is definitely Fairview, and obviously Alva right behind them,” said Lady Mustangs coach Slade Young. “I think we’re improving (going into the tournament). We’re 4-4, and last year we won four games … I think if we play hard, we can compete with anybody, pretty much.”
Chisholm’s Reid Weber (team-best 10.3 points per game) and Pioneer’s Blake Gabriel (13.7) will look to take advantage of the hometown crowd — more so in Weber’s case — against a stacked boys bracket that features four teams ranked in the top 20 of their respective classes.
Top-seed Blackwell was handed its first defeat after seven straight wins, falling in decisive fashion Tuesday to No. 2 seed Alva, 67-45. Then again, Alva, now 8-2, was beaten by those same Maroons to open their season.
Meanwhile, defending Wheat Capital champion Pioneer (2-6) has won two straight since the return of 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Colby Koontz, most recently dispatching Dover by 40 points. Chisholm, though among the field’s less successful teams early in the season at 3-7, already has beaten Pioneer, and played close with both Blackwell and fellow favorite Fairview (8-2) for a half in each contest before fading down the stretch.
Kingfisher, 5-1 and ranked 11th in class 3A, won the tournament in 2010.
“The boys side is one of the toughest we’ve had for a while, as far as one-through-eight,” Spurlock said. “When you look at all the teams, I think any team has a chance to beat any team on any night in this tournament. If you’re going to win it, you’d better bring your game three days in a row.”
“It’s always tough,” said Pioneer coach Brandon Gallagher, who coached tournament winners in 2009 and 2011. “The years that we’ve been fortunate enough to win it, I’ve always felt really like we’ve accomplished something because the field is so tough. But we’ve gone in there with some really, really good teams and lost two games, too, so you better go out there and play … We’ve got a tough weekend coming up, because everybody in there’s going to be pretty good.”
In short, the field is formidable from every angle.
“I wouldn’t put my money on any one specific team,” Spurlock concluded. “It could be anybody in this entire field.”