By Amanda Perkins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The MV/BT Liberty Lady Eagles took home the Mountain Grove Holiday Classic trophy for the second year in a row with a win over the Mansfield Lady Lions, 67-56.
“We were privileged to win this thing last year, but this team is not the team we had last year,” said Liberty head coach Eli Ernst. “We graduated six, including our sixth man and three starters, so this is really quite significant for our program. It shows growth, that we are doing the right things in practice, coaches are working hard…as a program, this is a big win for us.”
The Lady Eagles opened with full-court pressure and forced early turnovers as Kaitlyn King and Lexi Shumpert controlled the boards. Back-to-back threes from Kinley Richards and Kenna Woolsey helped Liberty to a 10-point lead after the first, 18-8.
Mansfield fought back in the second, putting up 17 points to Liberty’s 20. Lauren Jones added six of her team’s points from downtown.
Liberty’s bigs fell into foul trouble in the third and Mansfield’s Jada Henry came up clutch with six points from the charity stripe alone. Chloe Lansdown connected for three to bring the Lady Lions within four points. Mansfield outscored Liberty in the quarter, but the Lady Eagles’ early lead and key buckets from Shumpert, Woolsey, and Richards pulled them ahead by nine.
Lauren Jones and Logan Jones opened the final quarter with hot shooting from behind the arc to bring the Lady Lions within four. The two combined for 12 of the team’s 16 points in the frame. But King, Shumpert, and Abby Woolsey helped from the charity stripe while Kinley Richards was perfect for six free throws to maintain the Lady Eagles’ lead for the win.
Ernst credited Mansfield’s talent and praised his team’s effort, including Shumpert and King’s solid rebounding and Richards’ leadership. King and Shumpert were named to the all-tournament team, with King earning MVP honors.
“We always seek guidance and comfort in #34 on the floor,” said Ernst. “Richards does a lot of great things. We recognize she is so unselfish and it doesn’t always show up in stats. She could come out and have 20, 25 if she wanted to, but she chooses to get the other girls involved. It makes our team stronger to play that way and that’s big for us. We lean on her a lot.”
Liberty advanced to the championship round with an overtime win over Willow Springs.
“That’s SCA basketball,” said Ernst of the overtime victory. “Willow Springs is phenomenal. To get through that game and to have legs is a testament to the workout program we have at school. Our girls are challenged every day in the weight room, and to get through winning three games in three nights is kudos to our team for putting our nose down and putting in the work other teams don’t do.”
Mansfield took second place with tournament wins over Summersville, Houston, and Eminence.
“I’m really proud of my team,” said head coach Gary Greene. “They fought like crazy with probably as good of an effort as we’ve had in a long time. I don’t feel like we’ve lost but like the better team beat us tonight. They killed us on offensive boards the first half – they’re big and strong, and we’re not – and that hurt us, but we still fought. I can’t complain about that.”
The All-Tournament Team consisted of Callie Sturgeon, Koshkonong; Madison Woolf, Salem; Tristan Weaver, Eminence; Tessa Duddridge, Willow Springs; Raine Roy, Mansfield; Jada Henry, Mansfield; Lexi Shumpert, Liberty; and MVP Kaitlyn King, Liberty.
Scoring for Mansfield: Lauren Jones, 19; Henry, 18; Lansdown, 8; Logan Jones, 6; and Langley, 5.
Scoring for Liberty: Lexi Shumpert, 22; Abby Woolsey, 13; Kinley Richards, 13; Kenna Woolsey, 10; Kaitlyn King, 7, and Jocelyn Clark, 2.