Lady Bulldogs fall short of state tournament bid

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TORRINGTON – The Wheatland High School Lady Bulldogs went into the regional tournament with a good feeling about returning to Casper after falling short a year ago. The Wheatland girls had reason for optimism as their record coming into the regionals was 17-7.

A Wheatland girls basketball team had not won that many games in a season since 2015 nor lost as few games, and they had completely improved on their 6-17 record from a year ago. This year four of those seven losses came from Douglas and Buffalo. They were convinced that this was their year.

Instead, the warm sunshine and optimism that was with them through Thursday’s quarterfinal nailbiter over Moorcroft by a score of 31-30 began to fade with Friday’s loss to eventual regional champion, Buffalo by a score of 62-43.

By Saturday, the girls found out that they were playing Torrington, a team that they had beaten twice in the regular season and were sure they could beat them again. And that may be true, but not this year and certainly not on that day.

After having one of their worst games of the season, and at the worst possible time to experience it, the dust settled, and the Trailblazers were the victors by a score of 42-25.

The first game came on Thursday against Moorcroft, a team that just a week prior had the lead with four seconds left in the game. Wheatland eeked out a win with a buzzer-beater. The game this last Thursday began with Moorcroft and a huge chip on their shoulder. The first quarter ended with the Lady Wolves taking a two-point advantage.

In the second quarter, Wheatland turned up the defensive heat and shut out Moorcroft while scoring 10 points and taking a 14-6 lead into the locker room. Moorcroft chipped away in the third quarter making it a one-point game and Wheatland played with a small lead until two minutes left in the game when Moorcroft hit a 3-point shot to tie the game and then with 1:27 went ahead with a free throw. Brinley Heimsoth hit a breakaway layup that put the Lady Bulldogs ahead for good with 58 seconds on the clock.

Jadea Graves led the Lady Bulldogs with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Grace Battershell had six points, while Karly Jones with five. Heimsoth and Lily Nichols had four each, and Kacey Otero chipped in two.

Emotions were high and went even higher later that night when the boys won their first-round game. Both teams would face almost impossible odds the next day as the boys would have to play Douglas and they would have to play Buffalo, a team that scored 74 points against them in early February.

On Friday, the girls went into the Buffalo game still riding high from the adrenaline of the night before. They came out firing in the first quarter taking a 13-9 lead and hitting three shots from beyond the arc. Buffalo turned the tables in the second stanza and at halftime The Lady Bulldogs were down by nine, still not an impossible margin to overcome as long as they could once again find their first quarter magic.

They would not find it for the rest of the tournament. Buffalo went on to a 19-point victory which sent the Lady Bulldogs into the “win-or-go-home” game. For the Buffalo game Nichols led the Lady Bulldogs with 17 points, followed by Graves with 10, Heimsoth with six, Otero with five, Battershell with three and Mickelsen with two.

Wheatland ended up turning the ball over 27 times and were badly outdistanced on the boards. Add to that the interesting fact that the Lady Bisons went to the free throw line 22 times in the game while the Lady Bulldogs went only once.

Saturday brought renewed optimism as the girls were playing Torrington, and they felt as if it was the game that could get them back to the state tournament.

Torrington had other ideas. They came out fired up by the hometown crowd and took Wheatland out of their game, making them force shots and varying the tempo. In the first quarter, Wheatland took nine shots from the floor and not one of them connected. All they had for their troubles was a free throw by Graves and found themselves behind 11-1 when the quarter buzzer sounded. The Lady Trailblazers then outscored the Lady Bulldogs 12-7 in the second quarter pushing the lead to 23-8. After not being able to make the adjustments after halftime, the girls were behind by a score of 40-20 after three quarters and then outscored Torrington 5-2 falling way short of making a game of it.

Foul trouble threw Wheatland out of the chemistry they needed down the stretch as Graves played with four fouls for most of the second half and Otero fouled out with 52 seconds left in the third. The Bulldogs took 50 shots in the game and managed to hit just 10 of those. The leading scorer for Wheatland was Nichols with seven and Heimsoth with seven, Graves with four, Battershell with three while both Jones and Annaliese Matthews each had two points.

“The last game was a tough loss,” Michelle Coplen said. “We are not defined by one game but what the girls accomplished over the season. One of the goals we had as a program was to increase their winning percentage from last year. The team achieved that and more individual goals. As always, the Lady Bulldog program would like to thank all of the girls for the time they dedicated to the season. The coaches would especially like to thank the seniors for the great memories the last four years have brought us.”

The Lady Bulldogs finish their season at 18-9.