By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Marionville — The Crane Lady Pirates entered Friday’s contest against the Ash Grove Lady Pirates sporting an 11-4 record.
Ash Grove rolled into Marionville High School with an 8-9 record, searching for the tournament championship-game upset.
The Lady Pirates of Ash Grove (9-9) didn’t have to search long as it upset Crane, 47-38, to win the 24th annual Lady Comet Classic.
The Ash Grove defense set the tone from the onset, which allowed for added possessions throughout the tilt, as it’s smothering half-court and three-quarter press and interior play took the Crane offense out of its element.
“We had some key assignments and just tried to focus on them as much as possible,” Ash Grove head coach Bryan Dean said. “Rebounding is that little thing — get deflections and play the gaps. The girls executed; not just setting and standing, they actually were anticipating and moving and being active. It’s been a struggle all year, but they stayed locked in the whole night and figured out that other people can make mistakes, too, so that is what’s awesome.”
Ash Grove’s forced eight first-half turnovers en route to a 25-19 halftime lead.
The defense clamped down on the perimeter and in the paint, but owning the loose ball ratio also enabled added possessions, which added another dimension to the balanced attack.
“That is one of our philosophies. No excuses, and when that loose ball is rolling out there, it’s a 50-50 ball and we need to think it’s ours,” Dean said. “They have that mentality, that toughness. We try to focus on the little things, and if that ball’s loose, we have to get it. That is something they are figuring out, if we can value the possession, we’re good, we can have opportunities.”
With players such as Crane seniors Madison Hicks and Sadie McMenamy, there wasn’t time to relent for Ash Grove, as Crane outscored the opposing Lady Pirates, 10-9, in the third quarter, as Ellingsworth’s 15-footer cut the Ash Grove lead to 30-27
Senior Olivia Edwards drained the 3-pointer, followed by Hicks’s 10-footer, pulled Crane back into contention, as it trailed Ash Grove, 40-34.
But Ash Grove closed out the game on a 7-4 run to create added separation.
The Ash Grove offense flourished throughout the game, owning time of possession — giving the Lady Pirates the necessary 1-2 punch to pull out the tournament championship.
Ash Grove junior Kennedi Climer — who was one of two Ash Grove players named to the all-tournament team (Emma Eagleburger) — said feeding the interior and putting pressure on Crane’s interior defense illuminated the game plan.
Said Climer: “Pushing it inside, getting our posts to own it up inside, and get them (Crane) in trouble. The guards, just working backside screens and working to get open.”
For Climer, making the all-tournament team is a testament to the laborious hours that take place at home, away from the hustle and bustle of daily practice sessions.
“It is a great accomplishment. It is something I work hard for,” Climer said of the tournament notoriety. “I really don’t think about it. I just go on the court, play my best, and see what the outcomes are.”
With the Ash Grove back court dictating tempo — both offensively and defensively — it’s that versatility that will aid in collective development as the season hits the stretch run.
“It is a great advantage. Having everyone be able to be a key on offense really helps,” Climer said. “If there is just one person working, it doesn’t work, so working as a team allows for back doors, open looks, and things come open.”
Scoring for Ash Grove: Freshman Khloe Moad led the way with her 13 points (eight in the first half); Briley Bagley added 11; Eagleburger tallied 10; Climer added six and Riley Hammons poured in five. Patsi Gorski added two.
Scoring for Crane: Hicks led all scorers with 18 points; Edwards tallied eight and Emrey Ellingsworth added four.
McMenamy added six and Danielle Cutbirth added two.
Madison Hicks — Crane.
Sadie McMenamy — Crane.
Kennedi Climer — Ash Grove.
Emma Eagleburger — Ash Grove.
Elizabeth Gearing — Billings.
Paige Tate — Spokane.
Micayla McClure — Spokane.
Kelsie Grimm — Marionville.