By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Blue Eye coach Ken Elfrink knew his Lady Bulldogs had a tall task ahead of them Thursday night – literally.
The Kickapoo Lady Chiefs, whose starting lineup features three players at 6-foot-2, 6-1 and 5-11, and who can run in more players at least 6-foot or taller, proved too much for the smaller Bulldogs to overcome in a 58-45 first-round Pink Division victory in the Pink & White Lady Classic at Drury University’s Weiser Gym.
“I knew coming in that their strength is our weakness,” Elfrink said of fifth-seeded Kickapoo. “They’re athletic, but fortunately for us they didn’t shoot it very well. Unfortunately, for us, we gave them plenty of opportunities to shoot it.”
Blue Eye, who was without all-stater Kohnnar Patton, Evangel commit Ayshia Bettlach and sixth-man Maddie Box, kept it close in the first half, trailing 22-19 at the half.
“They’ve got a good basketball team,” Kickapoo coach Jim Pendergrass said of Blue Eye. “They’re one of the best teams in the state of Missouri; one of the most well-coached teams in the state of the Missouri. There’s a reason it was a close game.”
But Kickapoo got several second-chance opportunities, scoring on putbacks off offensive rebounds, leading to a big third quarter, outscoring Blue Eye 21-14 for a 43-33 lead.
“Those second chances make a huge difference in a close game,” Pendergrass said. “I thought our depth, when we subbed, there was not a lot of drop-off; give our kids credit on that. I thought they really came in and gave us a boost and we were able to stay fresh.
“I thought we did a better job in the second half of finishing our shots around the basket. It seemed like we made a lot of our transition baskets against their pressure in the second half.”
Kickapoo sophomore Indya Green was a beast on the boards, pulling down 12 rebounds to go with her team-high 18 points. Freshman Bella Fontleroy added 14 points for the Lady Chiefs, who face the winner of the Thayer-Jonesboro, Ark., game at 2 p.m. Thursday in the O’Reilly Family Event Center.
Seniors Kenedi Larson and Taylor Arnold led the Lady Bulldogs with 19 and 10 points, respectively.
“I can’t complain,” Elfrink said. “It’s one where we were right there and we had an opportunity. I knew my kids would compete and that’s all I can ask.”
Blue Eye will face the Thayer-Jonesboro, Ark., loser at 2 p.m. Thursday in Weiser Gym.
PINK & WHITE INVITATIONAL
(5) KICKAPOO 58, BLUE EYE 45
BLUE EYE 13-6-14-12—45
BLUE EYE (5-3) – Avery Arnold 5, Kenzie Hobbs 2, Hope Smith 6, Taylor Arnold 10, Kenedi Larson 19, Riley Arnold 3.
KICKAPOO (5-4) – Bella Fontleroy 14, Leah Fredrick 6, Rachel Senn 5, Macie Conway 3, Indya Green 18, Chloe Merced 4, Kaylee Corbin 2, Madie Barrett 6.