By Amanda Perkins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
It was arguably the game of the year in the Ozark Conference as foes West Plains and Rolla went head to head Thursday night. The Lady Zizzers (#2 in Class 4) and Lady Bulldogs (#3 in Class 4) were each undefeated in conference play going into the matchup. Tied at 20 with Rolla at the half, West Plains pulled away for a 43-37 victory.
“It was a great high school basketball game, a great atmosphere,” said West Plains head coach Scott Womack. “Our student body was tremendous. Rolla is so good and well-coached, and they are obviously a lot bigger than us. I thought their size hurt us in the first half, and we did a much better job defending in the second half.”
The teams were separated by one point to close the first quarter; Rebecca Janke controlled the paint and dominated underneath the basket for eight points to propel Rolla to the lead.
“We were on their home floor,” said Coach Parker, “And I tell the girls, when you’re on the road, you’re starting out (down) 10-0, so you’ve got to start fighting from the get-go.”
Down seven with three minutes left in the second quarter, Alli Holesapple kicked off a scoring drive for the Lady Zizzers with an outside jumper. MacKenzie Brunson grabbed an offensive board for a put back, and Rolla’s Savannah Campbell answered under the basket. Cass Cunningham then put up two free throws before connecting on a shot from downtown for the Lady Zizzers. With one second on the clock, Brunson drew a foul and tied up the game at the charity stripe.
The Lady Zizzers stepped up their defense in the third and allowed only four points in the frame while Cunningham, Brunson, and Holesapple combined for nine. The teams entered the final quarter with West Plains leading 29-24 after Rolla had previously averaged 53 points per game on the season.
“In the second half, they took away our post presence and we got a little too passive and weren’t looking for our shots,” said Rolla head coach Charley Parker. “They hit some big shots down the stretch to pull them out and we had to try to claw our way back in it from then on.”
Two of those big shots were back to back threes from Cass Cunningham for six of her 16 points on the night. Coach Womack said those shots gave the Lady Zizzers a lot of momentum in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Lady Zizzers also added six from the free throw line in the fourth while keeping Rolla away from the charity stripe. The Lady Bulldogs lost two players to foul trouble late in the game, which Coach Parker noted was just part of the game of basketball.
“That’s two heavyweights in the Ozark Conference going at it and West Plains came out on top tonight,” said Coach Parker. “They did a good job and I tip my hat to that side of the floor.”
Coach Womack said the Lady Zizzers knew a team effort would be required for a win.
“MacKenzie had a nice solid game for us, and so did Ashton,” he said. “We knew Alli would have to make some shots for us and she hit those shots when we needed them, and Bre stepped up there and made free throws at the end. Cass got us going offensively with the threes. When MacKenzie went to the bench with her fourth foul, Bre came in and (was solid) on the defensive end. I’m just really proud of the way the girls competed tonight.”
The Lady Zizzers move to 20-1 overall and 4-0 in the Ozark Conference; the Lady Bulldogs are now 18-2 and 3-1 in the OC. And while the teams continue conference play next week, they could potentially meet up again at state quarterfinals.
West Plains: Cunningham, 16; Brunson, 9; Holesapple, 8; Ashton Judd, 7; Bre Harlan, 3.
Rolla: Janke, 14; Libhart, 7; Corley, 6; Rodgers, 5; Campbell, 5.