By Scott Vanscoy (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The strong season of the Miller Lady Cardinals continued to roll on Monday night when they defeated the Pleasant Hope Lady Pirates, 58-35. The Cardinals saw their record improve to 20-5 and 7-0 in the new Southwest Conference. This marks the first time Miller has won their conference since head coach (and former MSU Lady Bear) Hannah Wilkerson was a senior with the Cardinals. Wilkerson, however, was ill tonight and the team was led by assistant coach Jamie Lasalle.
The Miller Cardinals are young. Miller’s three leading scorers and four of five players averaging more than 1.4 points per game are freshmen with just one senior. Freshman Claudia Hadlock is the team’s leading scorer at 17.3 points per game. Miller last year went 19-9 and was district runner up. The Cardinals graduated five players that averaged more than 1-point per game last year so this year has been led by a new group of freshman and a senior. With the win tonight, this young team won its 20th game, eclipsing last year’s win total. They also have secured the number one seed in the district. The lone senior on the team has been Bethany Gulick.
“Winning the conference, it means a lot,” said Gulick. “We haven’t been conference champions my four years of high school. Plus, to have Hannah coach us and the last time we won it was when she was a senior in high school. That’s pretty cool to be able to win that for her. She is home sick tonight with the flu, very sick, we are sad she’s not here. Our team is all freshmen, me, and a senior; its fun, they make it fun. They are pretty mature for freshmen, but it just means that I have to be a bigger leader and I can do that. I’ve stepped up to it and they look up to me and we get along great.”
The Cardinals got off to a great start as their full court press caused several turnovers, allowing them to quickly get a 20-6 lead. In the second quarter, Pleasant Hope went to a box and one defense that caused Miller to take some poor shots and miss some easy ones. Though their offense wasn’t clicking, their defense was as they held the Pirates to just five points for the quarter. At the half, Miller led 28-11.
“It was a pretty rough game, physically, a lot of fouls going on,” said Lasalle. “Both teams were on the floor a lot, diving and some pretty physical plays going in for layups. It was a physical game but I thought we handled ourselves well, we kept our composure. In the second quarter they went to a box and one on Claudia and we had a hard time figuring out what we wanted to do, where we wanted to shoot from. We had Kaylee, that’s an adjustment we made at halftime; we put Claudia in at post and brought Kaylee out from the high post. She hit a three immediately and I think we hit another three right after that, and he got out of box and one.”
In the second half, adjustments were made by Lasalle and the Cardinals came out with a 2-3 zone, forcing the Pirates to shoot outside shots. Miller out-rebounded the Pirates and continued to force turnovers.
“We’ve been playing the 2-3 zone all year since we only have seven girls, so that was mainly because of our fouling,” said Lasalle. “We’ll play a 2-3 a lot, actually, when we don’t really want to but it is something we have to do. It’s been fine, we play it well, but when things aren’t going well offensively we just like to get some steals and try to get out there and go.”
The score after three was 52-17 on the way to the 58-35 final.
“Undefeated in the conference was one of our goals,” said Lasalle. “I think they all expected to go undefeated in the conference and they are going to keep expecting it because we have a lot of freshmen playing right now. They are pretty excited, that’s our first step.”
Miller is the No. 1 seed in districts and will play Marionville on Saturday at 1:00 in Marionville.
Miller—Claudia Hadlock-13, Jessica Epps-6, Bethany Gulick-5, Kaylee Helton-18, Payten Richardson-16
Pleasant Hope—Gwen McClain-4, Courtney Jenkins-14, Alexis Daugherty-3, Faith Francka-8, Cameron Manley-2, Lydia Dunaway-2, Cheyenne Wolf-2
Miller 20 8 24 6 58
Pleasant Hope 6 5 6 18 35