Springfield, Mo. (For OzarksSportsZone.com) -- In the championship game of the 7th annual Lady Warrior classic at New Covenant Academy, the Central Lady Bulldogs and Sparta Trojans faced off in a battle for the first place trophy. Ultimately, Sparta walked away with a 52-44 victory after a hard fought test versus Central.
“For our young players, going and executing our game plan properly as well as getting the win was big,” said Sparta head coach Mike Plante.
With just one senior on their roster, Sparta has to rely on their sophomores and juniors to make the necessary plays to win games, such as the one Saturday. Sophomore guard Cailyn Long was the biggest contributor for the Lady Trojans, racking up 20 points on the night. Like the rest of her team though, it wasn’t until the second and third quarters that she started developing a rhythm offensively.
After the first quarter of play, the two teams were tied at 9-9. The game looked to be a defensive struggle from the start, and continued that way even late into the game. Turnovers were a big factor for both teams. A central point as to why neither team could develop a consistent offensive game early was because the defense was strong in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Sparta began showing signs of life on the offensive end of the floor. Long and junior center Keeley Virtue both showed flashes of their offensive potential, as the Lady Trojans were able to outscore the Lady Bulldogs 10-7 in the quarter and take a three-point lead into the half.
“It was really key ending the first half with the lead,” said Plante. “Going in with the lead was a confidence booster for us.”
Central’s trapping zone defense was effective enough to keep them in the game and within striking distance.
Senior Hannah Steinmetz picked up her second personal foul late in the first quarter, which caused her to sit the bench for a majority of the second period. At the half, the game was still up for grabs. The guard play of Long and senior Nicole Jenkins for Sparta, and the trio of freshman Jaslyn Williams, senior Malyshia Hogan, and junior Savannah Rush for Central, was going to be the difference for the two teams in the second-half.
Sparta jumped on the Lady Bulldogs coming out of the half, yet still played their patient and effective form of basketball. Virtue moving between the high and low post and getting baskets inside for the Lady Trojans had a major impact in the period. Virtue was able to score, as well as pass out of her position, which spread the defense more and caused more open looks for her teammates.
“My teammates were shooting the ball well on outside which helped open it up for me,” said Long.
However, Central also got an offensive rhythm going with dribble penetration, transitions, and offensive rebounds.
Williams forced multiple steals and lay up opportunities for her team in the second half, which accounted for a large amount of the team’s 28 second-half points. Junior Leann Cody played brilliantly in the paint for Central, grabbing anything and everything coming her way.
Cody was injured though in the fourth quarter and could not return to the game with what appeared to be a hurt right leg. Though the Lady Bulldogs’ offense did not stall out after Cody’s injury, their defense did. Sparta scored 20 points in the fourth period, more than they had scored in any previous quarter of the game.
Clutch free throws by Long and other teammates in the final two minutes sealed the game and championship for Sparta. With the win, Sparta keeps their undefeated season alive at 6-0.
“This game proved if we all give 100% we can play with anyone and this is huge for our confidence,” said Long.
The Lady Trojans will next travel to Hollister on Monday to face the Lady Tigers. Central will attempt to bounce back Monday as they face the Republic Lady Tigers in Republic.
Scoring for Central: Savannah Rush 11, Leann Cody 10, Jaslyn Williams 9, Malyshia Hogan 8, Hannah Steinmetz 4, Megan Cornman 2
Scoring for Sparta: Cailyn Long 20, Keeley Virtue 16, Nicole Jenkins 12, Tensa Gilley 3, Brandi Stevens 1
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