It wasn’t to steal their thunder, but some of the biggest plays on a night to honor Ozark’s senior class came from a junior.
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“Tonight was an important night,” said Hannah Cook, who felt motivated to get a win for Ozark’s five-member senior class. “It’s senior night, it’s Nixa. We’ve got to win.”
Cook scored 19 points and helped slow down a hot-shooting Toshua Leavitt to help the Lady Tigers knock off rival Nixa 57-44 in a Central Ozark Conference game Monday night.
Ozark was in control of the game most of the night, and had crafted a 10-point lead in the third quarter thanks to hot shooting and solid rebounding. But Nixa, ranked No. 5 in Class 5, chipped away with buckets from Angie Allen and Leavitt to close within 40-34 with a minute left in the period.
But the Lady Tigers ran the clock down, and Cook beat the buzzer with an NBA-range 3-pointer to give Ozark some breathing room. Ozark’s Courtney Clancy then opened the fourth quarter with a rare 4-point play - hitting a 3 while drawing a foul - to push the lead to 13 and effectively put the game out of reach.
“That got the crowd going and got me going, too,” said Cook. “I just threw up a prayer and it went in.”
“Those were a big seven points,” said Ozark head coach Yancy Little. “That was what they were giving us. (Nixa) was doing a good job on the inside. We got (Jackie) Fugate some touches early, and she was able to get some baskets early. In the second job they did a much better job of keeping her contained.”
Cook’s long 3-pointer came after one of seven Ozark offensive rebounds on the night, one of two things Nixa coach Jim Middleton felt swung the game.
“(Ozark) had too many opportunities for second chances. You don’t let that happen and expect to do very well in a conference game, especially with two rivals going at it,” said Middleton. “We didn’t contest shooters very well, either. I think that’s as big a difference in the game as anything tonight, is our lack of rebounding and not contesting shooters. If we did a better job with either of those two things, we would’ve been in a lot better shape tonight.”
Cook’s 19 led the way, but she wasn’t the only Lady Tiger in double figures, as Haylee Beard added 11 and Jackie Fugate had 10.
Leavitt finished with 19 as well, 14 of them in the first-half and none in the fourth quarter. Allen and Jeana Raper added nine each for Nixa (19-5 overall, 3-2 COC Large).
Part of the reason Leavitt cooled off in the second-half was the presence of Cook, who at 5-foot-11 has a 7-inch height advantage.
“She has a little big more length. Hannah likes to gamble a bit on defense. She’s a heck of a defender and already has the school record in steals and is always looking to get a few more. But in the second-half she just tried to shut (Leavitt) down and cause her some problems,” said Little.
Her strategy to cause problems was simple.
“I usually have to guard a shooter,” said Cook. “I love defense. I like getting after it and stealing the ball. I just tried to get in her grill a little bit.”
The victory should give Ozark (17-6, 5-0) the top seed in Class 5 District 11, though that will be decided for sure Saturday morning at the seeding meeting. Branson, Glendale and Kickapoo round out that field.
If the seeds fall the way Middleton expects, Nixa could play a rematch with host Branson, a team they beat 48-38 on Jan. 31.