The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 8, 2014

45th annual Wheat Capital opens today

By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Here’s to hoping the 45th annual Wheat Capital’s 16 teams had their breakfast.

Eleven of those 16 enter Thursday’s opening round at Chisholm’s Paul J. Outhier Field House with a record of .500 or better, five are ranked in the top-20 of their respective class, and in an impressive girls bracket, two enter the field coming off state tournament appearances last year.

Those two also are the tourney’s top-ranked teams in Class 3A No. 2 Alva, and Class 2A No. 3 Fairview. Fairview strong-armed a Wheat Capital title from Alva to cap last season’s girls bracket, winning a fourth-straight title, 51-34.

Alva earned the top seed in the 2014 edition of the tournament, but Ladybug coach Eric Smith isn’t counting on breaking the Lady Jackets’ streak on seeding alone.

“We got the No. 1 seed, so I guess you’d say, seeding-wise, we should be the best team in the tournament, but Fairview’s won this thing four times in a row, so until they lose, I think they’re the favorites,” Smith said. “As of now, It’s pretty much the Fairview Wheat Capital Tournament.”

Alva did beat Fairview in the teams’ only meeting this season, but the 43-38 Ladybugs win was one of only two times Alva won by fewer than 15 points.

And a rematch of last season’s title matchup is no sure thing. Guymon, ranked 18th in 5A, enters as the only other ranked team in the girls field, and as the highest-class team. Chisholm has played the two top teams within 15 points, and will have the advantage of a likely full-throated homecourt advantage at Paul J. Outhier Field House.

The boys bracket is only slightly less harrowing on paper, with defending champion Alva returning to the tournament with a top seed and the field’s top ranking, 16th in 3A.

Class 2A No. 17 Fairview figures to contend, and Pioneer, now 5-2 and a winner of three straight since losing its spot in 2A’s top 20 after a 2-2 start, has a shot to dethrone the Goldbugs.

“Every year, this tournament is always so tough and talented,” said Pioneer coach Brandon Gallagher. “We’ve had really good teams that have gone in there and lost two games … There’s no telling who’s gonna come out on top in that thing.”

TWO TO WATCH:

Jaden Hobbs, Alva

Nevermind the team-high 19.3 points per game, or the point-guarding a top-two team to 9-0 start, or her 23.6 points per game in her first state-tournament appearance in an unexpected run to last season’s 2A title game, or doing all that in little more than a season of high school basketball.

Ask Alva sophomore Jaden Hobbs where she’s improved in her second season, and she quickly makes it an indictment of where she still needs to be.

“I’ve gotta move more offensively,” said Hobbs after a 20-point night in a 61-12 win against Oklahoma Bible Academy last month. “I try to start from the top too much, so I’ve got to move more. I have to work on blocking out, my defense needs to improve … There’s many things I still need to improve on.”

The rest of Class 3A, Alva’s new home, hopes she doesn’t.

Only two teams, Okarche and Fairview, have played the Ladybugs to within 14 points this season.

The rest? They’ve lost by an average of 29.

Blake Gabriel, Pioneer

The primary prescription against Pioneer entering this season was to keep 6-foot-9 Colby Koontz off the backboard and the scoreboard enough to make the rest of the Mustangs do the work.

Lately, that hasn’t worked so well.

Koontz is second on the team, averaging 16.4 points per game, but as teams have tried to bracket the Mustangs’ biggest player, their second biggest has happily back-cut his way to the best stretch of his career.

Blake Gabriel has poured in 25.3 points per game during the 5-2 Mustangs’ current three-game win streak, including the team’s two highest-scoring games in 2013-14. The 6-foot-5 senior scored 30 in a Dec. 20 win against Hennessey, and looked not to have rusted during Pioneer’s Christmas hiatus, scoring a career-high 35 points in a win against Crescent.

“He’s really good, whenever he’s playing well, at finding weak spots in zones and coming in from the backside, and really flashing,” said Pioneer coach Brandon Gallagher. “He’s figured it out, and he’s getting more consistent with it.”