By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Nixa, Mo. — From the opening tip, Ozark was off and running in a Tuesday night clash with arch-rival Nixa.
The Lady Tigers raced out to an early 14-1 advantage en route to a 59-42 victory, thanks to a steady dose of Anna Hitt and Katie Mayes.
The Ozark duo combined for 12 points during a fast-paced opening stretch.
“We just played really well,” Ozark head coach David Brewer said of his team’s quick start. ”We’re pretty good when we’re in transition. In the first quarter, we were able to control the boards, get the rebounds, and we got in transition for some easy baskets.”
Hitt, was particularly effective for Ozark with repeated slashes to the basket. The sophomore finished with a game-high 17 points.
Hitt’s success greatly benefitted from the game’s pace and stylistic matchups, according to Brewer.
“It really suited her — this kind of style against Nixa — as they’re similar to us,” Brewer said. “Nixa tries to get out and guard hard, defensively, as we do but, really, with the dribble-drive, she was kind of able to get to the rim and that’s one of her strengths.”
While Ozark was able to consistently put points on the board, Nixa struggled to run its offense at times. The Lady Eagles were also limited to single-shot opportunities, for the most part.
“I thought the first quarter — and really all night long — we were really engaged, defensively,” Brewer said. “It took some of their strengths away, personnel-wise, and we just kind of got on them early.”
Ozark took a 27-17 lead into the half; however, Nixa rallied in the third.
Junior Emily Edwards poured in 10 of her team-high 14 points in the third quarter and helped bring the Lady Eagles within four late in the period.
After a blistering start, Ozark managed to score only a dozen points total in the second and third quarters.
Brewer lamented his team’s inconsistent play at times when dealing with a big lead.
“The game got slowed down just a bit, and I thought we got little bit stagnant because we were so good in transition early,” Brewer said. “We’ve got to continue to work on finding a balance between getting the transition we can and then executing and staying aggressive in the half court sets.”
In the fourth quarter, Ozark’s balanced attack reappeared, and the Lady Tigers were able to stretch the lead into double figures, once again.
An 8-0 Ozark run midway through the quarter gave the visitors a commanding 47-31 lead, and free throw shooting down the stretch helped seal the victory for the Lady Tigers.
Ozark converted 13 of 14 free throws in the final period.
After the game, Hitt talked about the pressure Ozark is able to put on opponents when the team is able to execute its game plan.
“I think — a lot of times — we were attacking lane a lot, we were hitting our threes, as well, so it’s making us dynamic in a lot of places. It helps when you can have a team that can drive up as well as shoot, and it makes it hard.”
Hitt was joined in double figures by Madi Braden with 13 and Mayes with 10 points.
Nixa’s Sarah Seiden added 11 points in the loss.
The victory moves Ozark to 13-5, while Nixa falls to 13-5.
Varsity Final: Ozark – 57, Nixa – 42
Ozark 21 06 06 24 — 57
Nixa 11 06 12 13 — 42
Ozark scoring: Anna Hitt – 17, Madi Braden – 13, Katie Mayes – 10, Olivia Hanks – 9, Annie Scheer – 6, Moriah Putt – 2
Nixa scoring: Emily Edwards – 14, Sarah Seiden – 11, Tori Yantis – 6, Raegan Thomason – 6, Paige Sportsman – 4, Lakin Copeland – 1
Frosh final: Ozark – 39, Nixa – 34
JV final: Nixa – 40, Ozark – 38