By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
NEVADA, Mo. – Wynn Gymnasium was host to some big milestones Monday night.
For Nevada, it was the first conference championship in the reconfigured Big 8.
For Rogersville, it was the first-ever conference loss for the team’s five seniors.
The host Tigers overcame a 16-point deficit in the first half to beat the Wildcats 54-47 on Monday night at Nevada High School in a Big 8 Conference crossover championship that pitted the top team from the East division and the top team from the West.
Nevada improved to 18-4 and 7-0 in conference, while eighth-ranked Rogersville fell to 18-7 and 6-1.
“I said all we can do is go back in the gym and make what’s wrong tonight right for the big picture at the end and the big picture at the end is state play starting with districts,” Rogersville coach Denny McHenry said. “Or we can dwell on not winning a conference championship which is tough for our seniors because they were 24-0. They’ve never lost a conference championship until tonight. That’s tough on that group of kids, but if you’re tough-minded and the big picture is state play for you, you’ll overcome this and you’ll play good.”
Early on it looked like the Wildcats might win in a rout. Rogersville scored the first nine points of the game and led 22-6 after junior Sophia Nixon converted a three-point play late in the first quarter. Another three-point play from Nixon kept it a 15-point game later in the second quarter, but Nevada baskets from junior Calli Beshore and Lindley Ferry cut the lead to 29-20 by halftime.
“We usually make the shots we didn’t make in the first quarter,” Nevada coach Brent Bartlett said. “I didn’t think we were competing at the defensive level we need to be successful in the first quarter. We made some changes from man to a zone and competed better. Things started falling on the offensive end. We’re a pretty good shooting team like you saw end of the second quarter into the second half. I told our team to keep shooting but you’ve got to compete at the defensive level and get some stops.”
Nevada junior Payge Dahmer opened the third quarter with a three pointer to cut it to six, and five points from Beshore helped cut it to 32-28.
Rogersville, meanwhile, went cold on offense. The Wildcats made just two field goals in the third quarter and went more than six minutes into the fourth quarter before scoring from the floor.
“We couldn’t make a shot,” McHenry said. “We made lots of shots to start the game. I think at the point where it was 22-8 we fell in love with the three-point shot and didn’t make it. I think for the game we were like 3-for-17 at the three-point line. We were scoring layups. And then they went zone. We didn’t penetrate the zone. We lost our focus.”
Nevada tied the game at 32 on a reverse layup by sophomore Alison Bower with 3:16 remaining in the third. A minute later the Tigers took the lead – briefly – but when junior Hailee Lundine made a three pointer at the 1:45 mark to make it 37-35, Nevada would never trail again.
“Our identity is our defense and we went 12 possessions and didn’t score,” McHenry said. “We made a few free throws in there but we didn’t score a basket … when you do that, you lose your energy on defense.”
Nevada kept Rogersville at arms’ length in the fourth quarter with solid shooting at the free throw line. The Tigers made 10 free throws in the fourth while shooting 71 percent. Their lead grew to nine points at 48-39 and then 10 at 51-41, a 26-point swing from the first quarter.
“This is the first year we’ve been in the Big 8 and the way they’ve done it, east and west, I think it’s great,” Bartlett said. “I thought this was a district championship atmosphere and competition that you’ll have in district. It came at a great time for us.”
“We can sit here and say we didn’t play good but they also have a lot to do with that tonight,” McHenry said. “My hat’s off to them because they went through the conference undefeated and that’s not easy to do. They seemed to have the answer for about everything we ran tonight.”
Beshore led Nevada with 14 points and Ferry added 10.
Rogersville senior Maci McHenry led the Wildcats with 15 points, including 12 in the first half. Nixon finished with 12.