By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Less than two minutes remained in the third quarter when Olivia Hanks scored to give Ozark a 16-point lead in a battle of unbeaten conference teams at Carl Junction.
It was the Lady Tigers’ biggest lead of the night, and also their last field goal of the game.
Katie Scott scored 13 points in the fourth quarter and Carl Junction finished the game on a 28-4 run to beat Ozark 65-57 Thursday night. The Bulldogs improved to 20-0 and the student section celebrated with a chant of “un-de-fea-ted” when it was over.
Carl Junction, ranked third in the state in Class 4, improved to 6-0 in the Central Ozarks Conference with three games remaining. Ozark, the sixth-ranked team in Class 5, dropped to 18-5 and 5-1.
“Ozark is a very good team, well coached and they shoot the ball well, they were super fast and physical,” Carl Junction coach Brad Shorter said. “Our kids just stuck to the plan. We stayed with it and stayed with it. For a team like us that plays a lot of matchup zone, most of the fans would probably see them knock down some three’s and think, ‘You’ve got to get out of it, you’ve got to get out of it.’ We stayed with it. We did mix in some man to kind of mix up some looks for them but kids just hung in there. When we were able to press there late I thought putting Katie on the ball really helped. Made it difficult for them to pass and our kids did a good job of stepping up and getting some tips, steals, and then we started to make some shots.”
The Bulldogs made 15 free throws in the fourth quarter, Ozark committed 11 turnovers in that span and the Tigers didn’t make a field goal in the final nine minutes and 42 seconds of the game.
“Wow,” Shorter said. “That’s a testament to our defense. Our kids have been playing super hard and we’ve been working a lot on man. We’ve been a matchup team the last four or five years because of the kids that we’ve had. This group can play some tough man. I’m super proud of them.”
And the performance at the free throw line might have earned the team some ice cream on Friday. Shorter has a deal with the players that has him buying ice cream if the team shoots 70 percent from the line. Carl Junction shot better than 80 percent on Thursday, making 25 of 31 attempts.
“They asked me, ‘Can we go get a shake tomorrow?’ We’ll see,” he said.
“We put them on the free throw line an inordinate amount of times,” Ozark coach David Brewer said. “I would like to see the free throw count. I’m guessing it was 40 to 15 or something like that if I was guessing. I’m not sure how you continue to win giving them that many opportunities and you’re not getting those opportunities.”
The Tigers made 12 of 15 free throw attempts.
Ozark was in control most of the first three quarters. It led 18-10 after the first and 28-18 midway through the second before Carl Junction mounted a 12-2 run to tie it at 30. Ozark led by two at the half.
Carl Junction failed to score on four of its first five possessions in the third and an Ozark basket by Katie Mayes prompted Shorter to call a timeout with his team down 41-33. Things got worse for the Bulldogs.
When Hanks scored at the 1:42 mark, Ozark led 53-37. Carl Junction added two free throws in the final minute but trailed by 14 going into fourth.
The Tigers were scoreless on their first seven possessions of the fourth but still led 55-47 after free throws by Anna Hitt with 4:17 remaining.
Ozark struggled against a full-court press down the stretch. Shila Winder’s three pointer cut the deficit to five and Scott then scored seven-straight points and put the Bulldogs ahead at the free throw line.
“It’s pretty difficult when somebody lowers their shoulder and drives like that,” Brewer said. “I don’t really know what to do. You’re trying to step in for charges, trying to get into defensive position. When they initiate that kind of contact it’s hard not to make contact. I’d say she probably had 10 or 12, 13, from the free throw line. She’s a fantastic player, we know that. I thought Katie Mayes did a good job as much as she could to keep her in check. Really when they hurt us with her is they put her on the perimeter, just gave her the ball and she ducked her shoulder and went to the rim. I asked the officials a couple times, I don’t know how we’re supposed to defend that. We didn’t have a good answer for that when she penetrated to the basket.”
Scott finished with a game-high 32 points and made 14 shots at the line.
Shorter said a big contributor late was Jessa Hylton with her speed.
“Coach (Cory) Kerbs and coach (Mikaela) Burgess both said, “What do you think about putting Jessa in the game to speed things up a bit and that helped us. That was a great call by those two for sure.”
Carl Junction only had one other player score in double figures. Winder finished with 11 points. Destiny Buerge added eight.
Ozark’s Hitt scored 19 and Madi Braden added 17.