By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
As head coach Kris Flood put it, the last few minutes became a matter of survival.
Flood’s Republic girls basketball team overcame six turnovers and a dozen missed free throws in the fourth quarter to beat second seed Ozark 53-38 on Thursday morning in the Pink & White Lady Classic at Drury University.
Seventh-seeded Republic will play third-seeded Mt. Vernon at 4 p.m. Friday in the Pink Division semifinals at the O’Reilly Family Event Center.
“We’re fortunate,” Flood said. “I thought we played pretty well the first three and were able to establish that double-digit lead and just hung on there at the end. The last three minutes was who could survive would survive there.”
Republic led 18-7 after a quarter and by as many as 13 points in the first half before taking a 26-16 lead into the break. The advantage was trimmed to seven points in the third quarter, but after senior Avylina Powell-Qualo grabbed an offensive rebound and scored early in the fourth, the Tigers led by double digits the rest of the way.
That was despite a shaky fourth-quarter performance that saw a flurry of turnovers – including on three-straight possessions – and a 45-percent shooting percentage from the free throw line.
Still, Republic went to the line for 22 free throws and made 10. Ozark wasn’t any better, making just 4-of-11 from the stripe in the fourth quarter. And Ozark failed to take advantage of the turnovers, coming away with just three points on the six turnovers.
“They missed some free throws too in that fourth quarter,” Flood said. “They had hit so well in the first part of the game, it could have been a huge difference but they were missing some too. We were just fortunate we got enough stops. I thought we played really well and panicked a little bit at the end but just kept our heads in there.”
“We had opportunities but didn’t capitalize,” Ozark coach David Brewer said.
Ozark didn’t make a field goal until its eighth possession of the game and scored on just one of five possessions after that to finish the first quarter. The Tigers committed eight turnovers in the first half and 15 in the game.
“We weren’t in sync,” Brewer said. “We were not executing well. We didn’t get the ball in the basket. We were settling for shots instead of trusting our execution and we weren’t making shots. When you don’t execute and you just take the first shot you get you don’t make it and basically Republic doesn’t ever have to play defense. They can just play offense and they executed really well on offense the first quarter to get ahead of us. We dug a hole from the beginning and we never got out of it.”
Republic led by 12 when junior Jade Kirby opened the third quarter with a basket, but Ozark started to show some life.
Ozark juniors Madi Braden and Olivia Hanks connected on three pointers around a Republic free throw to make it a 29-22 game. Five-straight points from Ozark junior Katie Mayes later in the quarter made it 34-27, and another Mayes basket made it 36-29.
After that, Republic sophomore Clara Fronabarger and senior Halli Bartelsmeyer made free throws to end the third quarter.
A Bartelsmeyer three pointer in the fourth extended the lead to 45-31. It hit 15 points after two Jade Kirby free throws.
Ozark cut it to 11 on a Braden three with 1:18 left in the game, but Republic made 4-of-8 free throws in the final 66 seconds to help seal it.
“I really thought Fronabarger really played a physical game today,” Flood said. “I thought she did a good job. Jade Kirby hit a couple threes right out of the gate that got us off to a good start and had a couple baskets there in the second half and of course Halli Bartelsmeyer, she’s just real steady. She’s one of our seniors that has the most varsity experience so she looks to step up and really help us especially when the games get like this. I thought all those kids played really well.”
Republic was led by Powell-Qualo, who scored 13 points. She exited the game late in the fourth quarter with an apparent leg injury and was on crutches afterwards.
“She’s really played well the last couple games for us,” Flood said. “She had a nice game (Wednesday) morning, was playing well today. We’ll just have to wait and see. The initial didn’t look real good but we’ll just have to play it by ear and hopefully she’s not hurt bad, especially with her being a senior and she’s a big key to our team. She does a lot of things for us.”
Mayes and Braden each scored nine points for Ozark, which fell to 6-3. Ozark will take on sixth seed Logan-Rogersville at 12:30 p.m. Friday in Weiser Gym.