By Evan Grice
For the No. 6 Piedmont Lady Wildcats and head coach Jamie Hill, the third time wasn’t just the charm Saturday night, it was the championship.
Facing the No. 1 ranked Class B Okarche Lady Warriors for the third consecutive year in the Buckle of the Wheatbelt finals, the Lady Wildcats put to an end two years of heartbreak and frustration, as a career night from Mina Iyaye helped vault PHS to a 45-40 victory, and the tournament championship.
The victory was the first Wheatbelt title for the Lady Wildcats since 2011 and the first piece of hardware for first-year head coach Jamie Hill.
“This win is so satisfying,” Hill said. “I’m so proud of the way these girls stayed calm and played Lady Wildcat Basketball. This is going to be a memory that lasts a lifetime for these girls. Every single person played a huge role in what we were doing out there. Even our bench was loud and ready to play. I’ve said it since November that it’s going to take a team effort for us to be successful, not just one person. We did this as a team.”
Perhaps the even more impressive stat was Piedmont managed to win the game, despite being shutout in the first quarter for the first time this season by an opposing team.
“I told the girls we were playing great defense and that we were keeping Okarche at the pace we wanted,” Hill said about her message after the first quarter. “Our shots were going to fall eventually and we knew that. During that break, I just told them to relax and take their time. We faced adversity during this tournament so many times and we overcame it.”
“We showed so much growth as a team, especially from a mental toughness standpoint. That’s huge for us.”
Piedmont’s patience was rewarded at the 2:15 mark of the fourth quarter, when Kayden Carver hit a three-point shot to give the Lady Wildcats a 33-30 advantage.
It was perhaps ironic the Lady Wildcats finished the game with their best quarter of the contest, scoring 27 points in the final frame, after managing just18 points in the first three quarters combined.
Okarche held an 11-0 advantage at the end of the first quarter, before taking a 17-10 lead into the locker room for halftime.
“Piedmont got really physical, and we didn’t respond to that as well as we should have,” Okarche coach Cherie Myers said. “We’ve got to get better at setting screens and executing. Now we see that some of these little mistakes will cost us a game and now we’ve got to fix them for the last three weeks of the season.”
Mina Iyaye finished with a game-high 18 points on the night for the Lady Wildcats with Hayden Priddy scoring eight points.
“This is a very big win for all of us,” Iyaye said. “We knew that coming back from Shawnee we had to prove ourselves to everyone. Coach Hill and my teammates knew we had an advantage in the post; it was just a matter of me using my size to my advantage. I saw they were standing out on our shooters so that gave me extra space down low so I could score.”
Kayden Carver scored five points on the night, with Abbie and Alex Hall along with Bre Reid all scoring four points. Maddie Sperle put in two points.
For the Lady Warriors, Morgan Vogt scored 18 points with Kenadey Grellner adding 10 points. Madi Grellner and Laci Friesen each put in five points.
Piedmont will be back at Collett Fieldhouse Friday night Jan. 31st for the homecoming matchup against the No. 7 El Reno Lady Indians with tip-off set for 6:30 p.m.