By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Willard Lady Tigers raced to a big, early lead against Carthage on Thursday and kept their foot on the gas on their way to a 51-32 White Division quarterfinal victory in the Pink & White Lady Classic at the O’Reilly Family Event Center.
Sparked by senior guard Hannah Bird’s two steals, which led to baskets, and her seven points, Willard took a 19-6 lead after the first quarter.
“I thought our kids really came out with a lot of intensity, both on the defensive end and on the offensive end in the first half,” Willard coach JJ Adamson said. “I would love to see us try and put a more complete second half together, but our first half was really good, both intensity- and execution-wise.”
The Willard defense limited Carthage’s offensive opportunities, especially in the second quarter, allowing only two made baskets, while extending its own lead to 32-11 going into halftime.
The only real hiccup in the second half for Willard was a 7-point third quarter and five fouls called against the Lady Tigers.
Eight of the nine Willard players who saw action on Thursday contributed to the offense.
“That’s when we’re at our best, when we share the basketball and play for each other,” Adamson said. “We don’t always have the best player on the floor, but we like to say we feel like we have one of the best teams on the floor, no matter who we play.
“When our kids share the basketball and play for one another, it ends up looking like it did tonight on the offensive end.”
Kaitlyn Burson, who led Willard with 16 points, went on a run of her own to open the fourth quarter, scoring six straight points in a variety of ways – from the free-throw line, on a fast break from Bird and on a high-low play from Bird.
“Kudos to Miss Burson,” Adamson said. “Hailey Fullerton (Carthage) is a very nice player – great length and great post defense – and we were very proud of how Kaitlyn played tonight.”
After winning its first game of the Pink & White Lady Classic for the first time on Wednesday – a 33-31 win over No. 3 West Plains at the buzzer – Carthage didn’t have an answer for Willard.
“It was a big adjustment in pace, for sure,” Carthage coach Chad Jones said. “I think in the first quarter we were still a little bit hung over from our victory and things like that, not to mention the pace of play.
“We talked about, going forward, that we just need to be more aggressive early on and try to get ourselves going earlier because, as the game wore on, we found our shots, we found our rhythm. It was just too much of a slow start.”
Willard advances to the semifinals for the first time since 2011, when the Lady Tigers finished third, and will take on Nixa.
“I think it’s going to be an amazing atmosphere for girls’ basketball, and should be a lot of fun,” Adamson said.
PINK & WHITE TOURNAMENT
WHITE DIVISION QUARTERFINAL
WILLARD 51, CARTHAGE 32
CARTHAGE (7-3) – Lexi Black 2, Jillian Brunnert 10, Hailey Fullerton 7, Mia Duncan 3, Sierra Negrette 2, Riley Kabance 2, Sara Golden 4, Jaxsyn Anderson 2.
WILLARD (7-2) – Hannah Bird 12, Nona Adamson 6, Liz Drennan 2, Josie Sanders 4, Kaitlyn Burson 16, Ariana Patillo 5, Addy Adamson 2, Megan Mahan 4.