Shawnee punches ticket to state with epic rally
Wendi Wells could not believe what she had just witnessed.
“It’s just hard to explain,” she said. “I’ve been playing or coaching for a really long time, and I’ve never seen anything or been a part of anything like that.”
Shawnee started the fourth quarter trailing Altus by 25 points.
Wells and her Shawnee girls went on a 34-7 run in the final quarter of the area consolation championship game Saturday. They punched their ticket to the Class 5A state tournament with a 50-48 win and one of the largest comebacks in Oklahoma high school history.
Shawnee will make its first state tournament appearance since 2017.
“It was very exciting,” Shawnee sophomore guard Amaya Martinez said after banking in the go-ahead 3-pointer. “Everybody wanted to win, and it was something we all put together as a team.”
After the game, the team huddled, sporting their biggest smiles and posing for a picture to commemorate their big night. The Wolves had accomplished something amazing, and the euphoria afterward couldn’t be measured.
But just one quarter earlier, the mood was a lot different.
As the third quarter horn sounded, the scoreboard read:
Altus 41, Shawnee 16.
The scorebook was just as unforgiving. Shawnee was putting together its worst shooting performance all season in a win-or-go-home game.
“We just kept missing,” Wells said. “We just got down on ourselves and started struggling from the free-throw line, couldn’t make shots within five or six feet. It just kind of steamrolled and got worse.”
Wells understood the challenge her team was facing. The Wolves were on the road battling in a must-win game, and they had just one player with postseason experience on the roster. Wells knew her team had not shot the ball well all night. She knew they had more turnovers than made field goals.
And she especially knew a Wolves’ comeback wasn’t likely.
This wasn’t an NBA game or even a college game where time was on their side.
This was high school.
With just eight-minute quarters, erasing a 25-point deficit seemed almost impossible. So when Wells’ players met her at the bench in between quarters, she gave them one message.
“At this point, you need to have pride in yourself and pride in each other and you need to compete until the end,” Wells said. “It’s going to be really easy for you to just give up and go through the motions right now. But when you leave here today, you need to remember that I gave everything I had until the final buzzer.
“So no matter what, you fight and you keep scraping until the final buzzer.”
The Wolves did.
Shawnee shifted to a full-court press and it worked wonders. The Wolves forced turnover after turnover leading to fastbreak scores on the other end as they built momentum. And when Altus’ star player, who had 32 points in the game, fouled out with five minutes remaining, Shawnee saw its opening and took it. The Wolves gave up just three points the rest of the way, which all came from the free-throw line.
When the final buzzer sounded, three of the starters had fouled out and the entire team was exhausted.
But they were victorious.
In the midst of the celebration, Wells could only think about how Martinez banked in the go-ahead 3-point shot. It reminded her of late assistant coach Steve Freeman, who died of pancreatic cancer in July.
“We’ve always joked, Coach Freeman and I, we’re just like, ‘Everybody banks a 3 in on us,” Wells said. “We’re like, ‘We shoot bad and we just miss bad. Everybody else shoots bad and they get rewarded for it!’
“So when she banked that 3 in, I could just hear Coach (Freeman) saying, ‘There’s that bank 3 we always wanted.’”