Exorcising past demons, the Grove Lady Ridgerunners basketball team (8-4) captured their first ever NEO Championship Saturday afternoon with a 51-48 win over the Miami Lady Wardogs (4-8) at the Miami Civic Center.
The victory capped a 3-0 tournament run for the Lady Red that saw them sweep 5A Guthrie and 4A #9 Roland before claiming the Girls Gold Round Robin Championship trophy on the same floor where just one year ago the team was swept 0-3 in tourney play.
"I'm elated," said first year Lady Red Head Coach Richard Bassett. "I'm not going to lie; when I took over this team my expectations weren't very high just because I knew what they did last year. But they have absolutely put me to shame about those thoughts. They have done everything I've asked and they've worked their tails off."
The veteran coach had won seven NEO titles while heading up the Picher girls program but none of those successes were like Saturday's.
"I expected to win when I came over here (with Picher) but I never brought a team over here that was 3-21 the year before and then had them play like this," said Bassett. "This was a fun one; this was a good one right here."
Before the Lady Ridgerunners claimed the giant gold championsí trophy they first had to put away a pesky Lady Wardog team.
Grove held a 14-11 edge at the end of the first quarter but Miami found their rhythm in the second and third frames to own a 41-35 advantage as the fourth quarter began.
Consecutive three-point field goals from junior Peri Lane brought the Lady Red level at 41 on the scoreboard with 5:16 remaining in the game.
A three point field goal from Miami's Courtnei Young offered a brief resurgence for the Lady Wardogs but Grove answered with an 8-0 run anchored by a trey from junior Logan Cook and five points from junior Rachel Allington to hold a 51-46 lead with 1:12 remaining.
Miami had 10 free throw opportunities in the final minute of the game but only landed two. The Lady Wardogs went 2 of 11 from the charity stripe in the fourth and were held to nine points.
"We couldn't hit the broadside of a barn today but we fought through adversity and did what we could to win this ball game and that's a sign of a good team," said Bassett. "I'm proud of them.
"Coming off a huge win like we had against Roland yesterday and expending all that energy; I just think we were tired today. We fought through the adversity to take the win."
Margaret Pogue was the high scorer for the Lady Red with 16 points. Lane finished with 11 while Allington added nine.
With the hectic three-day tournament behind them the GHS team can take some time to reflect on their accomplishment before they host the Jay Lady Bulldogs Tuesday.
"This will be something we talk about until this season is over," Bassett said. "We have the ability to play with anybody if we just bring our A game and that's what we are going to try to do."