MIAMI — A 45-44 loss to Edmond North in the finals of the 2017 Northeastern Oklahoma A&M High School Basketball Tournament has been etched in the memory of the Coweta girls’ three returning starters.
North rallied from a three-point deficit in the final 90 seconds then had to hang on as Coweta missed two chances before time ran out.
“Our returning kids talk about that loss quite often,” Coweta coach Brad Crace said. “We just felt like we controlled the whole game until the last minute or so.”
A layup by Madison Wheat gave Coweta a 44-41 lead with 1:33 remaining.
Victoria Harjo made it a one-point game with a 12-foot jumper, then Amaia Maxwell scored off a steal to give Edmond North a 45-44 advantage.
The Lady Tigers’ Madison Gray had a 3-pointer clank off the rim with 8.3 seconds left.
Coweta got the rebound and after a time out, had a shot rim in and out at the buzzer.
The Lady Tigers are one of 48 teams entered in this year’s NEO tournament, which runs Thursday, Jan. 18 through Saturday, Jan. 20.
Games will be played at the NEO Field House, Glen Wolfe Student Activity Center and the Miami Activity Center.
Coweta (6-5) currently is 11th in Class 5A and North (8-4) is 12th in 6A.
Both are in the Girls Gold bracket along with 4A No. 17 Roland, 4A No. 19 Grove, Tulsa Rogers, Miami and the Green Country Defenders.
“The bracket looks very tough as Edmond North, Rogers, Roland and Grove all have very good ball clubs,” Crace said. “It will be tough to repeat our finals run from last year.”
Youth is the buzzword for the 2017-28 Coweta Lady Tigers.
Crace said depending on the matchup, the starting lineup can include two or three freshmen along with one senior, one junior and a sophomore.
Five of Coweta’s top nine players are freshmen.
Wheat, Gray and junior forward Jaci Ross are returning starters for the Lady Tigers.
Wheat, a 5-4 sophomore point guard, is averaging 14 points per game.
“She has a chance to be really good as she gets older,” Crace said.
Gray, a 5-9 forward, is the only senior on Coweta’s roster.
Crace said she is playing through a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“She gives us some toughness and leadership,” he said.
One of the Lady Tigers’ talented freshmen is 5-5 guard Linda Brice.
Brice, averaging about 12 a game, is “one of the fastest players I have coached in my 23-year career,” Crace said.
“Wheat and Brice give us a good guard combination,” he said. “We don't have much size with this group.”
Coweta is a member of the Metro Lakes Conference.
It has a bit of a different look from the days when Miami was a charter member in 1982 with Claremore, Pryor, Tahlequah, Tulsa Webster, Tulsa Kelley, Owasso and Bixby.
The league now includes Claremore, Pryor, Tahlequah, Grove, Collinsville, Skiatook, Glenpool and Keys — which briefly was a member of the Verdigris Valley.
Six of the girls’ teams are currently ranked in the top 20 of their class.
Coweta has been playing in the tournament since 2014.
“The NEO tournament is attractive to us in that we can get away and stay for a few days in a quality tournament,” Crace said. “It just helps our team come together a little more than we would normally have a chance.”
Edmond North is one of five returning champions.
The others include the Welch and Fairland girls and Tulsa McLain and Nowata boys.
Daily tickets are $9 for adults and $8 for students and senior citizens.
A tournament pass, good for all 72 games at all three sites, is $20.
The tournament’s major sponsor is American Bus Sales of Collinsville.
The City of Miami, Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and Miami News-Record also are sponsors.