By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Mt. Vernon, Mo. — Beating a quality team twice in the same season is no simple task.
Tougher still when the rematch is on the road.
Nevada accomplished both tasks Monday night with a 61-48 victory over Mt. Vernon in the Big 8 championship.
Three days after wrapping up the West Division with a perfect 6-0 mark, the Lady Tigers downed a resilient Mt.Vernon squad to capture a second-straight conference title.
Longtime Nevada head coach Brent Bartlett emerged from the locker room all smiles amidst a boisterous post-game celebration.
“I’m just really excited for the kids,” Bartlett said. “We’ve just really improved this year, and we played a really good team. I thought we did so many good things and just kept our composure, kept our cool and it was just a great win for our girls.”
Calli Beshore poured in 18 points to lead a quartet of double-figure scorers for the Lady Tigers. Teammates Alison Bower, Lindley Ferry and Payge Dahmer added 12, 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Beshore helped set the tone early for Nevada, and her back-to-back baskets midway through the first quarter helped key a critical 12-0 run.
The 5-foot-5 senior scored 15 of her 18 points in the first half, alone, operating within the Lady Tigers’ patient, methodical offense.
“We were really just trying to slow the ball down and not like let [Mt. Vernon] dictate the pace,” Beshore said. “We were just trying to keep it at our pace and how we wanted to play; not rushing anything. We’re so excited because, for a lot of us, it’s our senior year and so for us to be able to do this, it’s just an amazing feeling.”
Nevada’s quick start was also a change of pace from the two schools’ previous meeting in early December — a 45-43 victory for the Lady Tigers.
After trailing for much of the previous contest, Bartlett praised the Lady Tigers’ quick start on Monday.
“That was the game plan — we wanted to be aggressive right from the start,” Bartlett said. “Throughout the whole game we were pretending we were 10 points down, and we wanted to get that 10 points back.”
After taking a 38-25 lead into the half, Nevada was able to maintain that double-digit lead throughout the second half.
Mt. Vernon was able to keep things within striking distance in the second half; however, the Lady ‘Neers were unable to maintain a significant run when needed.
For Mt. Vernon head coach Grant Berendt, a lack of consistent execution at both ends turned out to be the team’s undoing.
“We had a decent game plan coming in,” Berendt said. “I thought we got some good looks, but we couldn’t get over that hump; we couldn’t get that next stop at that next basket. We’d make a big three, and they’d come down and make a big three. We’d make a layup, and they’d come down and get an easier layup. It was just every time that we would kind of get a good punch, they had a counter-punch for us on everything.”
Lacy Stokes scored a game-high 20 points and teammate Cameryn Cassity added 17 points for the Lady ‘Neers.
Berendt praised the Mt. Vernon duo for stepping up in the midst of constant pressure on leading scorer, Ellie Johnston.
“I thought that our Cassity girl did a really good job of stepping up and keeping it close; doing some things when they were kind of focusing on Lacy and Ellie. I liked the shots we got, we just have to be more efficient in making those shots.”
The Lady Tigers held Johnston to a mere 4 points in the contest, utilizing a number of different looks designed to limit the 5-foot-7 junior’s touches and effectiveness.
“She’s about 19 [points] per game right now, and they really did a good job holding her well below her average,” Berendt said. “They just followed her and chased her off screens and trailed off doubles. They did a really good job at knowing where she was.”
For much of the evening, the difficult assignment fell to Beshore.
The University of Missouri – Kansas City cross country and track signee put her dual-sport talents on full display, particularly in the second half.
“I knew she was a great shooter, so I was really just trying to stay on her the whole time and not let her get away from me,” Beshore said. “There were a few times I lost track of her, and I was sprinting all over the place, but I was able to stay with her.”
Both teams are back in action Thursday, Feb. 20. Nevada (18-3) welcomes El Dorado Springs, while Mt. Vernon (19-6) finishes up its regular-season schedule at home against McDonald County.
While Nevada still has four games remaining in the regular season, Mt. Vernon is set to begin district play Saturday, Feb. 22.
Despite the loss, Berendt feels his team will be battle-tested and ready for the upcoming challenges.
“Anytime that we can face a team like that, it only makes us better — as long as your kids compete, and I never felt like our kids didn’t compete tonight,” Berendt said. “Until the final horn sounded, we were right there. Defensively, we had our traps on, we rotated right — you could see our body language was here to compete and here to fight. We just played a better team tonight and just didn’t quite have enough in the tank to get it done.”
Varsity Final: Nevada – 61, Mt. Vernon – 48
Nevada 21 17 11 12 — 61
Mt. Vernon 11 14 10 13 — 48
Nevada scoring: Calli Beshore – 18, Alison Bower – 12, Lindley Ferry – 11, Payge Dahmer – 10, Tylin Heathman – 5, Hailee Lundline – 3, Lindsay Phebus – 2
Mt. Vernon scoring: Lacy Stokes – 20, Cameryn Cassity – 17, Ellie Johnston – 4, Lily Davis – 3, Allie Schubert – 2, Jolie Prescott – 2