By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Nixa Lady Eagles used a huge third quarter to put some distance between them and the Fair Grove Lady Eagles on their way to a 58-48 White Division quarterfinal win in the Pink & White Lady Classic on Thursday night at the O’Reilly Family Event Center.
Nixa held a 22-17 lead at halftime, but exploded with a 23-6 third quarter that knocked Fair Grove on its heels.
“We didn’t talk much this morning about offense at all,” Nixa coach Jennifer Perryman said. “We said this was going to be a defensive game, and that’s something we’ve struggled with kind of buying into. We know that’s our bread and butter, but we’re still trying to establish identity through offense. And, I think tonight, they realized to be successful you’re going to establish your identity through defense.
“Paige (Sportsman) did a phenomenal job on (Alana) Findley, but it took everybody. It was a total team effort tonight.”
Findley, a Drury University signee, picked up her second foul about midway through the first quarter after leading Fair Grove with six points and a 6-4 lead. And, with Findley on the bench, Nixa closed the quarter on a 9-0 run for a 13-8 lead.
Findley returned in the second and hit a basket for Fair Grove and later found Cydney Fullerton at the top of the key for a 3-pointer to pull Fair Grove to 16-13, giving Fair Grove coach Jenny Talbert a reason to feel good heading into halftime, trailing only 22-17.
“We had a good halftime talk. I felt the girls were ready to go, ready to go fight,” Talbert said. “We talked about getting a score and getting a stop because we had the ball to start the second half. It fooled me because from the halftime talk, I would have never guessed we were going to come out there and lay an egg like that.
“I knew Nixa was going to play well, but it seems to be that when we start out the quarter with a turnover, that’s never good.”
And, Nixa capitalized on a Sportsman 3-pointer and a drive down the left lane for a bucket from Gabby Nielsen. Findley hit a baseline jumper, then picked up her third foul. Nixa proceeded to go on an 8-0 run to extend its lead to 35-19, then to a 20-point advantage (41-21) at the end of three, sparked by Tori Yantis’ seven points.
“We’ve been waiting for her to break out,” Perryman said of Yantis. “Everyone else realizes how good she is, and she’s starting to realize how good she is, which is good. We told her we have all the confidence in the world in her, her teammates have all the confidence in the world in her, and I think now she has confidence in herself.”
And being able to play her bench late in the game, Perryman is confident her Lady Eagles can bring that same energy and intensity in their semifinal game against Willard, a 51-32 winner over Carthage, at 7 p.m. Friday.
“That’s who we are,” Perryman said. “We play nine players every game, and that’s what we want to do. I think they realize that the level of basketball that we play at that Class 5 level in our schedule, we’ve got to have a deep bench.
“What we lack in size, we can make up with athleticism and endurance, and that’s got to be our advantage.”
PINK & WHITE TOURNAMENT
WHITE DIVISION QUARTERFINAL
NIXA 58, FAIR GROVE 48
FAIR GROVE 8-9-6-25—48
FAIR GROVE – Cydney Fullerton 12, Brooklyn Luna 8, Lexie Sutherland 6, Alana Findley 18, Harley Maxwell 2, Maddie Clark 2.
NIXA – Gabby Nielsen 16, Lakin Copeland 4, Emily Edwards 11, Tori Yantis 13, Paige Sportsman 8, Raegan Thomason 6.