By Brock Sisney (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
AURORA — The three-time defending district champion Mt. Vernon Lady Mountaineers fell behind the Clever Lady Jays by 10 points late in the first and early in the second quarter in their Class 3, District 12 championship game Friday night.
Clever led Mt. Vernon 14-4 and 16-6 — it seemed like the Lady Jays were on their way to their seasonal team scoring average and a district title.
Mt. Vernon, though, regrouped from that sluggish start and rattled off a 20-3 run to go ahead 26-19 in the third quarter en route to a 49-39 victory and consecutive district title No. 4.
When the Lady Jays enjoyed what turned out to be their last 10-point lead, Clever senior standout scorer Allie Clevenger already had eight points while Mt. Vernon could not buy a basket after being tied at 4-all.
“We had to call a timeout and we knew they were really good offensively with the Clevenger girl,” Mt. Vernon head coach Grant Berendt said. “They’ve got size and they’ve got shooters to go around. They’re averaging 61 points a game, so we knew they had a run in them. Our goal was to have a better start than we did, but when they got up 14-4 and 16-6, we had to call a timeout and regroup, adjust a few things defensively and we had to scrap what we had planned to do and change it.
“Then, offensively, it was just to relax, because we were getting good shots in that first quarter. They weren’t falling. I told our kids to keep shooting: ‘Just get your feet set and those shots will fall. Just have confidence and be us on both ends of the court.’”
Mt. Vernon outscored Clever 25-10 in the second and third quarters, highlighted by that 20-3 stretch, and Clevenger scored all 10 of those points.
“We keyed in, locked down and contested shots,” Berendt said. “We did a great job on the boards from the second quarter on and set the tone in that second half.
“She’s a really good player (Clevenger) and she’s averaging 24 points a game. We knew that we had to key in on her, find her in the post and make sure that we got a hand in her face. She may make some, that’s what great players do in big games, and we had to adjust our game to fit that.”
High-octane Clever scored at least 70 points eight times and surpassed 80 three times this season, including an 89-point night in December against Bradleyville. The Lady Jays, in fact, scored 87 their next time out against Crane.
Clever’s scoring numbers Friday night alone attest for Mt. Vernon’s defensive performance.
Looking at the Mt. Vernon roster, one quickly notices the Lady Mountaineers do not have a senior. However, Mt. Vernon’s two juniors, Ellie Johnston and Lacy Stokes, played key supporting roles on district championship winning teams their first two seasons — teams, it should be pointed out, that won 52 games and went a combined 52-8.
“They are basically seniors in my book,” Berendt said, “in the fact that they’ve played these big games and now this is their year to basically step up and shine. We had a really good team the last few years and they played behind some really good players. They got to see what to do for prep. Now, this year, they’re leading our three sophomores and our freshmen group, and allowing them to see what this is about, how you have to prepare and how hard it is to get there. They’re doing a tremendous job.”
Clever’s defense keyed mostly on Johnston and this gave other players scoring opportunities.
Sophomore forward Cameryn Cassity led Mt. Vernon with 16 points and it was her 3-point shot before halftime that gave Mt. Vernon its first lead of the night, 20-19. Cassity scored 11 points after halftime and she contributed to getting Clever’s 6-foot-1 senior post Madison Gladney into foul trouble. In fact, Cassity’s old-fashioned three-point play with 2 minutes, 31 seconds remaining in regulation fouled out Gladney. Cassity herself played through four personals.
Stokes netted all six of Mt. Vernon’s points in the first quarter and finished with 14. Johnston added seven points, Jolie Prescott six, Allie Schubert four and Lily Davis two. Berendt said that Mt. Vernon’s role players did a tremendous job of stepping up on the big stage.
Mt. Vernon improved to 23-6 on the season and the Lady Mountaineers have won 11 of their last 12 games entering sectionals. Mt. Vernon plays the District 11 champion (25-3 Strafford hosts 20-6 Forsyth for the crown Saturday afternoon) Wednesday at Willard.
Clevenger scored a game-high 21 points and Ruthie Brown put together seven points late to finish with 10. The rest of the Clever supporting cast only produced eight points: Carly Simpson four, Mackenzie Simpson three and Gladney one.
The Lady Jays finish their season 20-9.
MT. VERNON 49, CLEVER 39
Mt. Vernon 6 14 11 18 — 49
Clever 14 5 5 15 — 39
MT. VERNON (23-6) — Cameryn Cassity 16, Lacy Stokes 14, Ellie Johnston 7, Jolie Prescott 6, Allie Schubert 4, Lily Davis 2.
CLEVER (20-9) — Allie Clevenger 21, Ruthie Brown 10, Carly Simpson 4, Mackenzie Simpson 3, Madison Gladney 1.