By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield, Mo. — Nixa wasted little time dispatching Cinderella in Wednesday’s quarterfinal round of the Pink & White Lady Classic.
The Lady Eagles raced out to a 14-0 run against Aurora, en route to a 67-28 victory.
Nixa showcased significant advantages in size, speed and depth during the contest.
After stunning Ozark 51-47 in the opening round, The Lady Houn’s quickly found themselves in a deep hole to start the game. Aurora faced considerable difficulties navigating Nixa’s half-court trap and struggled to find open looks at the basket.
Nixa head coach Jennifer Perryman credited her team for learning and executing the game plan.
“Our girls prepare really well,” Perryman said. “They’re smart kids, they learn really well and they go out and execute. When you have kids that can do that, it makes our coaching staff look pretty good.”
Nixa’s 6-foot trio of Kelsey Biro (6), Bissett Michaelson (4) and Halley Wiggins (4) found success early attacking the block and exploiting the size mismatch. The three combined to score all 14 points in the Lady Eagles’ opening salvo.
“We knew [our size] was an advantage for us,” Perryman said. “We wanted to throw it in there. Whether it was our posts in there or our guards in there, we wanted to pound it inside. We also know that when we pound the ball inside and reverse it to the other side, that’s when our best 3-point shots are open, too.”
Kaylee Huffman’s 3-pointer with 2:31 remaining in the opening frame finally got the Lady Houn’s on the scoreboard, but the early damage left Aurora behind 18-5 at the break.
Despite the significant advantage, Nixa’s depth was tested early.
Wiggins was forced to the bench with a second foul late in the first, and Biro limped off the court midway through the second with an ankle injury. While she might be available for additional games in the tournament, according to Perryman, there was no reason to chance further injury.
Losing two starters would be a significant blow for most teams; however, Nixa’s deep roster is chock full of interchangeable parts.
Having Gabby Nielsen certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
Immediately after Biro left the game, the sophomore guard went on a personal 6-0 run.
“Gabby’s such a spark for us,” Perryman said. “Whether she’s coming off the bench or starts the second half for somebody, she’s just key to our energy. She’s just steady and consistent out there, and it gets people excited. We feed off her energy and it’s huge to have a player like her.”
Nielsen was quick to credit her teammates and Nixa’s overall chemistry for her success.
“As a team, we rotate off the ball really well, and we’re always there to help each other,” Nielsen said. “That’s what we’re best at as a team. If someone’s going to get beat, you know your teammate’s going to be there, but we work hard to make sure that we don’t get beat and we don’t have to have that help.”
As for the second-quarter burst of energy, Nielsen was motivated to play for her downed teammate.
“I’m just working,” Nielsen said. “It always sucks when a teammate gets hurt, but you have to fight through it and do it for Kelsey. Anyone that gets hurt, we do it for them.”
Nielsen led Nixa in scoring with 14 points. She was joined in double figures by Emily Edwards (11). Aurora was led by Kaylee Huffman’s 14 points.
Both teams continue play in the Pink & White on Thursday. Nixa (10-1) plays Skyline in the White Bracket semifinals, while Aurora (3-5) faces Rogersville in the consolation round.
Varsity final: Nixa – 67, Aurora – 28
Nixa 18 17 20 12 — 67
Aurora 05 09 09 05 — 28
Nixa scoring: Gabby Nielsen – 14, Emily Edwards – 11, Hailey Wiggins – 8, Bissett Michaelson – 8, Kelsey Biro – 7, Lakin Copeland – 5, Allison Brumley – 6, Shyla Horgan – 6, Paige Sportsman – 2
Aurora scoring: Kaylee Huffman – 14, Elizabeth Martin – 5, Ashley Vaught – 4, Lillie Bodeen – 3, Emily Moore – 2