By Bill Huddleston
The road to a championship is often the culmination of a long sought dream and for the McAlester Lady Buffaloes “the CHASE” became golden by winning the Class 5A girls basketball state championship with a 53-49 win over El Reno on the floor at Lloyd Noble Arena in Norman.
Overcoming an early 9-2 deficit, the Lady Buffs rallied to within one, 10-9 after the first eight minutes with Jayda Holiman and Stevie Stinchcomb doing the work. With a quick basket from Elizabeth Milligan and a 3-pointer from Jalen Spears to open the second quarter, McAlester went in front for the first time only to have the Lady Indians score five unanswered points to regain their lead. The sharp-shooting guard duo, Stinchcomb and Holiman, would deliver back-to-back treys and give the Lady Buffs the single point advantage, 26-25 at halftime.
Trading baskets back and forth, the battle continued through the second half as Madigan Milligan’s jump shot and free throws by Stinchcomb gave McAlester a 37-34 advantage going to the final quarter of the season.
With time winding down, Mariah Guyer’s basket with under a minute to play gave McAlester the lead 51-49 before Stinchcomb made a pair of charities with 16.6 seconds remaining allowing the Lady Buffs to storm the court having won the school’s fourth girls state title, posting a 22-5 record.
After losing to Sapulpa a year ago, McAlester adopted a team goal known as “the CHASE” and never lost sight of their mission.
“At the beginning of the year, the girls knew they wanted to chase down Sapulpa,” said head coach Jarrod Owen referencing the confidence, hard work and style of play by last year’s Class 5A state champion. “I told them it would require a ton of work. Every one of these girls bought in to our journey and they did it.”
According to Owen, chasing down the championship mentality and work ethic was a yearlong endeavor that began on the first day of practice last October.
“I believe that you have to be mentally tough to deal with the highs and lows of a big time game,” said Owen after winning his first state title as a head coach. “Every Wednesday after practice, we read a book as a team, ‘10-Minute Toughness,’ a mental toughness training program that empowers you to put good thoughts in your mind and not let negative thoughts creep in. We trained all year with that and I think it allowed the girls to overcome every challenge through grit and confidence.”
According to Owen, the Lady Buffs efforts were all about “B-A-T-L.”
“It stands for ‘Be Above the Line’. We drew a line on the board and listed everything below the line that would keep us from winning a championship and then all the things above were what we needed to have a great team, on the court and in the classroom.” explained Owen, who completed his fifth season at McAlester.
“It also stands for ‘Boast About the Lord’, and we give thanks to Him for everything that happens in victory as well as defeat.”
In their three state tournament victories as well as all year long, the Lady Buffs refused to be intimidated by the opponent by maximizing their efforts with a roster of players of 5-foot-9 or shorter.
“At the beginning of the year, we watched the movie Gladiator, and how everyone came together as leaders and fought together as one to overcome all the odds,” said Owen recalling another part of the season-long mission. “They bought into the fact that we would overcome the lack of height by being the fastest and strongest team on the court and take away what our opponents did best.”
One of the team’s leaders, Stevie Stinchcomb, a two-time VYPE Top 100 selection who will play collegiately at Emporia State University, joined Holiman with 16 points in the championship finale while Milligan added 10 points. The 2022 senior admits winning gold is a moment she will cherish forever.
“It doesn’t seem real but my dream did come true,” said Stinchcomb. “Ending my high school career as a state champion is something not a lot of players get to do. I am more than blessed to get to do this with my team who plays with heart and grit.”
Just like Stinchcomb and her teammates, winning the 2022 state championship is something the fans of the McAlester Lady Buffaloes will forever remember “The Golden Chase.”