By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield, Mo. — Better late than never.
Kickapoo found its groove late in the final minutes to down a pesky Licking team 45-38 in the Stephanie Phillips Classic Friday night.
Nursing a four-point lead with two minutes to play, the Lady Chiefs ripped off back-to-back baskets from Indya Green and Macie Conway — along with three-straight defensive stops — to help seal the victory.
Conway, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, led a balanced Kickapoo attack with 11 points on the evening, including a clutch three-point play late in the fourth quarter.
“I think just penetrating and taking care of the ball was the biggest thing, because freaking out and panicking with that much time left, that leads to bad decisions,” Conway said of Kickapoo’s closing burst. “I was wide open and was, like, ‘You know what, this is my time — I’m taking this shot.’”
KIckapoo head coach Jim Pendergrass was pleased with his team’s effort and perseverance.
“I like how we stayed with it, stayed gritty and kept trying to find a way to win,” Pendergrass said. “And we got three defensive stops in a row down the stretch, which is huge. That shows a lot of maturity in our team.”
The Lady Chiefs took control early and showcased a perimeter attack with a 15-3 run in the first quarter.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from senior Leah Fredrick — and a third from junior Rachel Senn — paced Kickapoo’s early onslaught.
Rattled early, Licking responded with senior Karlee Holland leading the charge.
The 5-foot-7 all-state selection led all scorers with 20 points on the evening.
While Pendergrass threw a number of different defensive looks at the Lady Wildcats, Kickapoo was unable to contain Holland’s playmaking abilities.
“We were trying to stop Holland — she’s such a good player,” Pendergrass said. “She just kept willing her team to stay in the game. They’ve got a lot of good players on that ballclub and, you know, she’s the leader. [Licking] is going to win a lot of games.”
While Kickapoo led 28-20 at the break, Licking managed to slowly chip away during the second half.
Early in the fourth quarter, a basket from freshman Abbie Sullins cut the lead to a mere three points and had the Lady Wildcats on the verge of a huge momentum shift.
Enter Indya Green.
Held to a single point in the first three quarters, Kickapoo’s senior all-state selection connected on a trio of baskets and a huge block in the final frame to help preserve the win.
“Indya finally got a little bit of room to work underneath and made some baskets,” Pendergrass said. “She was getting a lot of contact down there and getting pushed away from the basket.”
Licking head coach Steve Rissler talked about focusing his defense on the 5-foot-11 Green.
“I feel like we did a really good job on her, save for that little five minutes spurt in the fourth quarter where she kind of woke up,” Rissler said. “That’s why she’s all-state in Class 5. She’s a high-level player, and she took over when she needed to.”
Green’s fourth-quarter flurry was made possible by Kickapoo’s continued pressure on the perimeter.
Junior forwards Madie Barrett and Senn, both eclipsing the 6-foot mark, knocked down repeated shots from the outside and forced Licking’s internior defense to extend well beyond the lane.
“I thought we did a really good job [with interior defense], but we got behind,” Rissler said. “So we had to start taking some more chances instead of packing it in, because the other big, [Barrett], just killed us from three.”
The 6-foot-3 Barrett and the 6-foot-1 Rachel Senn have both worked to add an outside threat to their respective arsenals in order to take some of the pressure off Green.
“We’re trying to work hard on our outside game and get better with that this year,” Barrett said. “We’ve been trying to work on our rebounding and just trying to fill in for Indya. She’s been getting stuck and stuff, and we’re doing our best to get better at that.”
Working mostly from the outside, Barrett and Senn combined for 15 points and a pair of 3-pointers.
The stretched defense also opened up driving lanes and allowed for Conway’s late-game heroics.
Pendergrass was quick to praise his sophomore’s development early in the season.
“Macie made some huge plays down the stretch,” Pendergrass said. “She’s been so consistent all year for us. We have to have that from her, and she’s delivered.”
While Licking has taken back-to-back losses in as many days — the Lady ‘Cats fell 52-36 to Class 5 heavyweight Jefferson City on Thursday — Coach Rissler feels the experience gained battling the long, athletic teams will pay dividends down the road for his group.
“People kind of thought I was crazy for coming up here and playing these Class 5 teams,” Rissler said. “Last year we finished fourth, and I feel like our schedule didn’t do us any favors sticking around our area. We have to get outside, travel and put ourselves in situations where we’re out of our comfort zone.”
In Saturday’s final day of play in the Stephanie Phillips Classic, Kickapoo (3-2) faces Jefferson City, while Licking (5-2) takes on Rogers-Heritage.
Varsity Final: Kickapoo – 45, Licking – 38
Licking 06 14 09 09 — 38
Kickapoo 15 13 05 12 — 45
Licking scoring: Karlee Holland – 20, Abbie Sullins – 7, Kylie Taylor – 4, Anna Sullins – 4, Winter Murray – 3
Kickapoo scoring: Macie Conway – 11, Madie Barrett – 9, Indya Green – 7, Leah Fredrick – 6, Rachel Senn – 6, Kaylee Corbin – 4, Karli Facklam – 2