By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
Looking down his bench the past two weeks, Northern Oklahoma Enid Lady Jets coach Scott Morris has had just as many, if not more, players in street clothes than suiting up.
Kati Sullivan, Sherri Lang, Kori Fast, Tory Dwyer, Shelby Layn and Jordan Garner have missed most, if not all the season with injuries.
All-American Marisha Wallace has missed the last four games with mono. Paige Eaton’s minutes have been limited due to leg ailments.
Yet, the Lady Jets (23-7) are the No. 1 seed for the Region 2 women’s tournament, where they will play archrival NOC Tonkawa at 6 tonight in a quarterfinal at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee.
“If someone told me before the season we would have that many players out, I would have told them we might not win a game,’’ Morris said. “That’s why what they have done is so rewarding.’’
Overcoming those obstacles has put this year’s regionals in a different perspective for Morris as NOC Enid attempts to reach the nationals for the third time in the last four years.
“People on the outside don’t understand it’s the journey to get there that’s the most rewarding, not the end result,’’ Morris said. “No matter what happens, this has been a pretty successful journey.’’
Battling the odds has made this one of the Lady Jets’ hungriest teams. NOC Enid is riding a seven-game winning streak, despite being down to six players for one game and seven for much of the past two or three weeks.
“The last seven or eight games, we have started to mature,’’ Morris said. “We have started to put things together. The exciting part is seeing everyone get on the same page.’’
It has been mostly on the back of Region MVP Chelsea Bates (11.4), who averaged 17.9 points during the winning streak.
“Chelsea has taken her game and her leadership to a different level,’’ Morris said. “That’s what happens when a quarterback steps in and takes control of the team with poise and confidence. It’s contagious for the rest of the team.’’
Wallace, who is averaging 17.6 points, is still “day to day.’’
“The decision will be based on her being a contributor and not a distraction,’’ Morris said.
Eaton (4.4 ppg) will be limited to seven or 10 minutes because of injuries.
“But those are valuable minutes,’’ Morris said.
That puts more of a burden on Bates and the other healthy players — Christa Beasler (11.3), Rylie Swanson (8.6), Regan Crowl (5.1), Rani Melvin (3.1), Shannon Hough (6.3) and McKinsey Schumpert (2.4).
Melvin and Schumpert weren’t even on the roster at the start of practice.
The Lady Jets will have to win three games in three nights to claim the regional. The NOC Tonkawa/NOC Enid winner would play the Seminole-Redlands winner at 8 p.m. Friday. The finals are 8 p.m. Saturday.
The other side of the bracket pits Northeastern A&M (20-8) against Arkansas Baptist (15-15) and Murray State (19-8) against Carl Albert (11-18).
“We’re going to be putting in a lot of mileage with just a few players,’’ Morris said. “It’s going to be a physical tournament, so we’re going to have to gut it out.’’
NOC Tonkawa upset Eastern 69-68 in the play-in game. The Lady Mavericks lost to the Lady Jets 75-53 at Enid on Jan. 7 and 70-54 at Tonkawa on Feb. 7.
“They are playing with a lot of energy now,’’ Morris said. “We can’t afford to take anyone lightly. We have to be focused.’’
The Lady Mavericks, under coach Greg Krausse, are known for their three-point shooting. NOC Tonkawa doesn’t have anyone averaging in double figures.
Sharon Karungi, who is averaging eight points per game, averaged 14.5 points against NOC Enid.
Sullivan, out with a torn ACL, had 20 points in the first game, while Wallace had 14. NOC Enid had four in double figures at Tonkawa — Bates (19), Wallace (13), Crowl (12) and Beasler (10).
“You make sure that they don’t go crazy from the threes, but that applies to all 30 games of the season,’’ Morris said. “You have to be in position and execute. We’re playing our best offense now. We’re starting to come together at the right time, but I just hope we have enough horses to get through. You have to play good defense three days to win this tournament.’’
NOC Enid was swept by Redlands and lost to NEO at home. NEO beat NOC Enid in last year’s finals after the Lady Jets came into the tournament at 26-3.
Arkansas Baptist upset Connors 63-59 in a play-in game Monday, while Carl Albert eliminated Western 84-52.
“Last night (Monday) proved anything can happen,’’ Morris said. “Four teams have an even chance to win. One or two more have an outside chance. A few could surprise.
“We’re as good as anyone in the tournament, but we’re not head and shoulders above everyone else. We have to be focused.’’
All of the Lady Jets’ playoff games can be heard on KCRC (1390 AM).