By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
BLUE EYE — Clever took a big step toward relinquishing its dubious distinction as arguably the best team in southwest Missouri not to have won a championship of any kind this season.
The Lady Jays downed Blue Eye 58-46 Monday in a matchup that very well could determine the SWCL champion.
Clever (18-6 overall and 5-0 in the SWCL) put itself in prime position for a conference title, with games next week against Forsyth and Billings all that is standing between the Lady Jays and an outright championship. Blue Eye (21-5 and 6-1) would have wrapped up the league title with a win Monday.
“I looked at our board and we haven’t won a conference championship since 1990-something or maybe even before that,” Lady Jays center Abi Menzies said. “So, this is really big for us, one of our goals.”
Clever owns signature wins opposite the likes of Skyline, Fair Grove, Springfield Catholic, Crane, Branson and now Blue Eye, but has yet to add prized hardware to its trophy case. The Lady Jays have fallen in two tournament championship games and were beaten in a semifinal in another tourney.
“We won’t overlook Forsyth and Billings, but we’re going to cinch this thing and then go make a run at a District title,” Clever coach Dan Jones said.
Ally Clevenger helped put the Lady Jays on the path to the SWCL championship by pouring in a game-high 22 points. She’d already proven herself as a clutch performer, having also shined against Catholic, Branson and Fair Grove.
“Ally does great in games like this,” Menzies said. “She’s always calm and is basketball smart.”
Clevenger was cool, calm and collected Monday.
“I take a few deep breaths and then I’m okay,” Clevenger said of playing in a frenzied atmosphere. “I don’t get tense. I know if I tense up, I’ll make mistakes and turn it over a lot. You can’t have that in a close game.
“I was calm tonight.”
“She’s a gamer,” Jones said. “She uses her abilities and her mind. She’s one of the more coachable players I’ve ever had.”
“She’s very efficient,” Blue Eye coach Ken Elfrink added. “She takes smart shots. Her shots aren’t forced. She does a lot of good things.”
Clevenger was 8-of-8 at the free-throw line. She made all six of her freebies in the first half.
Clever was 13-of-16 at the foul line in the first half, after being in the bonus for seven-plus minutes in the second quarter. The Lady ‘Jays actually missed their first nine field-goal attempts of the second quarter, but extended their lead from nine to 11, thanks to their free-throw shooting.
Clever finished 22-of-28 at the charity stripe.
After Blue Eye drew to within five points of Clever at 41-36, Menzies helped the Lady ‘Jays up their lead to double digits. The 5-foot-11 center netted eight of her 12 points in the second half.
She played all of the fourth quarter with four fouls and posted a trio of blocks down the stretch.
“I was thinking, ‘Ooh, I probably shouldn’t go for it,’” Menzies said of her blocks while playing with four fouls. “But the score was close and I just went for it.”
“I thought a couple of her fouls tonight were great blocks,” Jones said. “A lot of her blocking is natural and the other part is taking what she does in volleyball (as a middle blocker) and turning into basketball. She knows how to position her body and keeps her hands high.”
Blue Eye didn’t get on track offensively until putting up 18 points in the fourth quarter. The Lady Bulldogs were 8-of-39 from the field over the first three quarters.
“We didn’t execute like we should have for whatever reason,” Elfrink said. “Give Clever credit. They hurried us up and that’s what a press does. It gets you to playing fast.”
“We do a lot of filming and get the other team scouted to know who the shooters are,” Jones said. “But I can’t take much credit for our defense. These girls have a high basketball IQ. They know how to move their feet and they hustle all the time.”
Clever 17 12 8 21 – 58
Blue Eye 8 11 9 18 – 46
CLEVER (58) — Harper Little 11, Tessa Newman 13, Abi Menzies 12, Ally Clevenger 22.
BLUE EYE (46) — Kohnnar Patton 13, Kenedi Larson 6, Katelynn Hansen 5, Addie Forester 4, Taylor Arnold 12, Ayshia Bettlach 3, Kenzie Hobbs 3.