By Stephen Buus (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Stockton—When the Miller Lady Cardinals first played the El Dorado Springs Bulldogs on Jan. 7, they won 45-42.
In the rematch Saturday in the finals of the Stockton Tournament, the result was much more decisive, as Miller’s pressure defense forced 27 turnovers and the Cardinals cruised to a 53-39 victory.
Miller led 11-10 after one quarter, but took control in the second led by freshmen Claudia Hadlock and Payten Richardson. The duo combined for all 29 first-half points as the Lady Cardinals led by nine.
Miller added another 8 points to its lead in the third quarter as freshman Kaylee Helton got inside for three field goals and senior Bethany Gulick added a key bucket.
As it turned out, Miller needed that 17-point cushion in the final eight minutes as the Lady Cardinals failed to make any shots from the floor. However, their dribble-penetration resulted in numerous Bulldog fouls, and the Cardinals made 10 of 14 free throws down the stretch to clinch the title.
“We put it away with free throws and just kept playing defense,” Cardinal coach Hannah Wilkerson said.
Hadlock led all scorers with 26 points, including 12 of 16 from the foul line. Richardson added 15.
“They’re getting over those growing pains a little bit,” Wilkerson said of her young team. “I wrote on the board before the game, ‘only eight games left.’ We can’t go backwards from here on out.
“They had a really good practice yesterday. They were really focused on what our plan was defensively. As a team they play really well together with rebounding and going after the loose balls. That’s what we do best, get some steals and get fast-break layups. Still wish we could knock down free throws better (Miller was 25 of 43 for the game), but I’m really proud of the girls coming out with the win.”
“Miller came out and played extremely well,” El Do coach Beau Swopes said. “Their pressure really got to us, and I don’t why it was. We forced some bad passes and forced some bad shots, but Miller played extremely well. They’re very well coached and the girls play hard. We don’t have any excuses; they just outplayed us for the majority of the game and the effort we needed didn’t show up until about the end of the fourth quarter when we were able to get them to turn it over some. I had to use five timeouts to talk about press breaker.”
For El Dorado, Tevi Gurley had 16 points and Reese Schaaf had 15.
Miller next hosts Pierce City on Tuesday in a special Military Appreciation Night. El Dorado returns to tournament action next week in the Clinton Invitational.
Miller 11 18 14 10—53
El Dorado 10 10 6 13—39
Miller: Claudia Hadlock 26, Payten Richardson 15, Kaylee Helton 8, Ashten Kingsley 2, Bethany Gulick 2.
El Dorado: Tevi Gurley 16, Reese Schaaf 15, Taylor Robison 6, Dani Ogle 2.
Other scores: Third, Lockwood 42, Buffalo 40; Consolation, Stockton 57, Butler 37. Sportsmanship award: Lockwood.