By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Clever, Mo. — Keyed by Abi Menzies’ dominant interior play, Clever ran away from Class 2 No. 1 Skyline Monday night en route to a 60-40 victory.
The 5-foot-11 junior poured in a game-high 22 points for the Lady Jays and, more importantly, helped anchor a defense tasked with slowing down Skyline’s relentless dribble-penetration attack.
Clever head coach Dan Jones praised his squad for its defensive focus and execution, particularly on Class 2 Player of the Year Kaylee DaMitz.
“We broke down some game film and watched that endlessly today,” Jones said. “We didn’t stop [dribble penetration], but we just wanted to limit it as best we could. I think the girls did a good job of protecting the yard and keeping [DaMitz] out of it, and then when she did make those passes, we had good recovery from the wings.”
Following a strong showing last week against a dominant Fair Grove frontcourt, Menzies talked about continuing to work the game plan.
“It was pretty much the same thing,” Menzies said. “Denying the big girl and helping with the drive on [DaMitz]. That really was our main focus — helping with the drives and not getting into foul trouble.”
The Lady Jays jumped out to a quick start in the first quarter behind the inside-out combination of Menzies and Harper Little. The junior duo combined for 17 of Clever’s 20 points in the opening frame and helped pace the Lady Jays to a 20-15 lead.
While Menzies has improved at the offensive end, her defensive effort is the spark, according to Jones.
“Abi’s starting to finish strong and high over the basket now and putting a couple more moves together,” Jones said. “And I think she’s feeding off of her defense right now, because she’s locking down like she never has before. When our interior defense can become strong like that, it just makes a huge difference in what our team can do.”
Skyline kept the game tight in the first half thanks to its own defensive pressure and DaMitz’s playmaking abilities.
The 5-foot-6 senior scored 12 of her team-high 16 points in the half, as Skyline forced a dozen turnovers to keep within striking distance.
Turnovers have plagued the Lady Jays at times during the season, and Jones was quick to note how much better his team could be without giving up the ball 20-plus times during a game.
“That’s been our Achilles’ heel lately and, sometimes, it hasn’t been in pressure,” Jones said. “If we can bring that down by 10, we’re 12 or 13 points better. It’s cost us a couple wins this year, and the girls know. Maybe it’s a little in our head, and we just have to get it out of our head, because we’re really not a turnover team.”
Clever took a 33-27 lead into the break and stretched the margin to 13 points in the third thanks, in part, to big shots from Tessa Newman on the perimeter.
The 5-foot-5 junior knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the midst of an 11-2 run to finally give the Lady Jays some much-needed breathing room. Clever finished the quarter up 51-38 and didn’t allow Skyline to get any closer down the stretch.
“Tessa, her whole life, she’s been kind of a big-shot girl,” Jones said. “I’ve told her she has the ability to be one of the most clutch shooters we’ve ever had. When she does that, it seems like the whole team just goes up another notch.”
With 11 points, Newman joined Menzies (22) and Little (14) in double figures for Clever.
Skyline was led by DaMitz and Chloe Cole, who scored 16 and 11 points, respectively.
The loss was only Skyline’s second of the season and the first in 40-straight games to a team other than Strafford. The Lady Tigers last non-Strafford loss was to Lebanon in the 2016 Pink & White.
“Clever did a heck of a job in every aspect,” Skyline head coach Kevin Cheek said. “They beat us on the glass, they shot it better than we did, and they beat us to about every loose ball. We got beat about every way you could get beat this evening.”
Rebounding also played a big role in the loss, according to Cheek. The Lady Tigers were outplayed on the glass by a 2-to-1 margin, and Clever feasted on the offensive boards.
“It’s high school athletics,” Cheek said. “You have nights where things just don’t work, and a lot of things tonight just weren’t working. There were many trips where we’d get a stop, and then we would watch them get the offensive rebound, jump up and put it back in.”
Both teams are back in action Thursday, Feb. 1. Clever (15-5) hosts Crane, while Skyline (18-2) welcomes Fair Grove.
Varsity Final: Clever – 60, Skyline – 40
Clever 20 13 18 09 — 60
Skyline 15 12 11 02 — 40
Clever scoring: Abi Menzie – 22, Harper Little – 14, Tessa Newman – 11, Allie Clevenger – 6, Madison Gladney – 5, Anna Kate Riley – 2
Skyline scoring: Kaylee DaMitz – 16, Chloe Cole – 11, Kylie Craig – 5, Autumn Garrett – 5, Sarah Cunningham – 3
JV Final: Skyline – 35, Clever – 16
(Riley Conly, McKenzie Carver – 8 points)