Fair Grove picks up win over Blue Eye in battle of state-ranked teams

By Pat Dailey (For OzarkSportsZone.com)

BLUE EYE — Fair Grove fans could have predicted a few years ago while watching Alana Findley dominate in junior high that she would become a standout in high school for the Lady Eagles.

But it would have been hard for anyone to foresee the manner in which Findley is shining this winter.

Findley’s all-around efforts were on display Thursday in Fair Grove’s 62-41 triumph over Blue Eye. She scored 14 points, crashed the offensive boards, dished out assists and perhaps most importantly, helped the Lady Eagles repeatedly solve the Lady Bulldogs’ full-court press.

“She’s a big deal in our press-breaker,” coach Jenny Talbert said.

Findley stared in junior high simply because, as she admits, she towered over opponents in the post. She’s moved far from the paint and onto the perimeter this season.

“It was kind of forced upon me,” Findley said, recalling a postseason conversation she had with Talbert after her sophomore year. “She called me into her office and said, ‘Alana, next year I’m going to need you to be ready to handle the ball.’

“I worked on it over the summer and made myself ready. There have been moments in games in which I haven’t made a smart pass. But I’m proud of my (progress).”

Talbert has been pleased to see Findley fulfill the potential she saw in her as a ball-handler.

“She’s been a freak athlete ever since I’ve known her,” Talbet said. “This year, she’s filled out, is so much stronger and has worked on her ball handling and shooting. It’s all coming together for her.”

CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF THE GAME

Findley picked her spots to score at Blue Eye. That was never more evident in the third quarter. With Fair Grove leading 41-25, Findley was called for her third foul and went to the Lady Eagles’ bench. Blue Eye promptly cut the deficit to 41-30.

Re-enter Findley, who immediately went 1-on-5 while dribbling from half-court en route to a layup to put Fair Grove back in charge.

“She takes advantage of openings when she sees them,” Talbert said. “Also, I think she knows when it’s a big possession. Like all great players, she wants the ball in her hands in a key possession.”

Fair Grove (15-3) also fed the ball often to center Harley Maxwell. She responded with a game-high 21 points.

“She should be (unstoppable), she’s 6-foot-2,” Talbert said. “She’s made herself into a pretty good player. So, when she catches the ball, we expect her to score.”

Maxwell avoided foul trouble for a night.

“Sometimes, she almost gets in the way and gets called for a foul,” Talbert said. “She’s doing a much better job of staying straight up and being a wall. We’ve told her she doesn’t need to be much else, just be 6-2.”

With Fair Grove holding a height advantage almost completely across the board on Blue Eye, the Lady Eagles converted on numerous second- and third-chance opportunities.”

“We knew coming in we would have a size advantage and we wanted to exploit that early,” Talbert said. “I told the girls, ‘You better win the rebounding battle.’”

“We would defend well in a half-court set and force a tough shot,” Blue Eye coach Ken Elfrink said. “Then, they would get an offensive board and an easy shot. They went after boards and we didn’t put a body on them. They would miss a layup and we would relax. But they didn’t relax.”

College of the Ozarks coach Becky Vest was in attendance. Findley is also drawing heavy recruiting interest from the likes of NCAA D-II programs Drury and Pitt State and is starting to attract attention at the NCAA D-I level..

“It’s exciting and definitely gives you some nerves to know they are watching,” Findley said. “It’s fun to see that hard work is paying off.”

Findley was all smiles after having a tooth knocked out during Fair Grove’s clash with Skyline last weekend. She had an emergency root canal performed Monday.

Findley impressed Elfrink, a veteran of more than 20 years at Blue Eye.

“She is probably one of the hardest working kids I’ve seen since I don’t know when,” he said. “She does not take a play off. She plays hard every possession.”

Kohnnar Patton’s 20 points paced the Lady Bulldogs (14-4).

Fair Grove continues an exceptional three-week stretch with marquee matchups against Clever, Springfield Catholic and a third meeting opposite Skyline. The Lady Tigers have handed the Lady Eagles two losses.

“The third time is a charm hopefully,” Findley said. “This a great start to what will hopefully be a winning streak.”

Fair Grove 15 15 15 17 – 62
Blue Eye 9 8 13 11 – 41

FAIR GROVE (62) — Harley Maxwell 21, Alana Findley 14, Taylor Bell 11, Maddie Clark 10, Lexie Sutherland 1, Cydney Fullerton 3, Brooklyn Luna 2.
BLUE EYE (41) — Kennedi Larson 5, Kohnnar Patton 20, Taylor Arnold 7, Ayshia Bettlach 5, Kenzie Hobbs 4.