By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Another hot start gave the West Plains Lady Zizzers the cushion they needed to advance to the Pink Division championship of the Pink & White Lady Classic with a 54-40 victory over Clever on Saturday afternoon at Drury University’s O’Reilly Family Event Center.
The second-seeded Lady Zizzers had used a 14-0 run early in the first quarter to get a big lead in their quarterfinal win over Willard on Friday. In Saturday’s semifinal, they jumped out to an 11-0 lead in the first quarter that Clever was never able to overcome.
“It’s kind of been our thing we’ve been doing lately is getting off to a quick start, which helps,” West Plains coach Scott Womack said. “Our defense has been really good, but we came out and I thought we moved the ball really well, got the open looks and they followed what we were wanting to do. We got some open looks and knocked them down. It sure makes it easier for you when that happens.”
West Plains hit five first-half 3-pointers to spark its 29-12 first-half lead.
“I just think they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Womack said. “When you get a lead like that, it kind of puts a little pressure on the other team and gets them out of their game plan a little bit. “
The Lady Zizzers, who improved to 10-0 on the season, used a matchup zone that extended Clever on offense, making it difficult for the Lady Bluejays to get much going offensively, including holding Allie Clevenger scoreless in the first half.
“In the first half, I thought our defense on the Clevenger girl was really good,” Womack said. “She kind of got off on us in the second half, but I thought in the first half we did a really nice job on her. We just try to find the shooters and make sure they don’t get any open looks. I thought our girls were doing a good job of communicating and getting to those shooters.”
It was a tough first half for Clever, which didn’t get its first basket until the 3:30 mark of the first quarter on a putback by Madison Gladney. Carly Simpson followed up that bucket with one of her own, pulling the Lady Bluejays within 14-4 to close out the first quarter.
“I wasn’t as disappointed in the hole as the way we got into it when we weren’t hitting our shots,” Clever coach Dan Jones said. “We just didn’t react properly. Our body language was not good. But, I felt like the girls did a good job of regrouping. We kind of stemmed the tide a little bit and played a little even with them for a while.”
West Plains extended its first-half lead to 29-12, but Clever’s shots started falling in the second half, which included Clevenger’s first basket of the game with five minutes to go in the third quarter. After trailing by as many as 20, the Lady Bluejays pulled within 12 points twice – once in the third quarter and then early in the fourth – and within 11 two more times.
“In the second half, we got some things going and were able to whittle some things away,” Jones said. “The girls listened real well, got mentally tough and started doing some things that they can do, so I was real proud of the fight we gave in the second half.
“Each game is a learning situation and is there to win, and if you don’t, it’s there to make you stronger. I think the girls will bounce back from this and have a good showing tomorrow.”
And, that matchup will be against Clever’s fourth-straight Class 5 team in the tournament – the Kickapoo Lady Chiefs.
“(West Plains) beat us in the Fair Grove championship by 11; we were up six in the third quarter,” said Jones of Clever’s (Class 2) only other loss. “We’re used to playing those teams and it just makes us better. It’s our third year to be in the final four of the Pink & White, so I’m real proud of the girls for that accomplishment.”
Senior forward Cass Cunningham had her second-straight big game for the Lady Zizzers, scoring 23 points and pulling down eight rebounds. In this tournament, Cunningham has discovered that she can be that scorer when her team needs her.
“The past few games have been really good games for me, compared to the rest of my season,” Cunningham said. “I’m being more aggressive. I think I’ve noticed I can be a scorer, rather than always passing the ball to the scorers.
“I think we just need to keep shooting the ball super well, and as long as we play together like we know we can play, I think we’ll be pretty good. We’re such a solid team. It’s not really that we care who’s scoring, as long as we’re scoring.”
“We need her to play like that, and when she does that, she opens up a lot of things for everybody else,” Womack said.
No. 2 West Plains 54, No. 6 Clever 40
Pink & White Lady Classic
Pink Division – Semifinal game
WEST PLAINS 54, CLEVER 40
WEST PLAINS 14-15-12-13—54
CLEVER (6-2) – Allie Clevenger 15, Carly Simpson 5, Mackenzie Simpson 6, Madison Gladney 6, Ruthie Brown 8.
WEST PLAINS (10-0) – MacKenzie Brunson 15, Alli Holesapple 1, Bre Harlan 4, Ashton Judd 11, Cass Cunningham 23.
Up next: West Plains vs. Ft. Smtih-Northside, 4 p.m., Monday at O’Reilly Family Event Center; Clever vs. Kicakpoo, 1 p.m., Monday at O’Reilly Family Event Center