Through the first seven minutes of Saturday night's Class 3 - District 12 championship game the top seeded Ash Grove Lady Pirates didn't look like the 22-6 team that earned the district's top seed. The Lady Pirates had mustered just two points, and trailed No. 3 East Newton 6-2.
"We came out tight and that was due to a combination of things. East Newton is a very good team, very well coached. They made things difficult for us. They scored early and we got knocked back on our heels," said Milleson.C
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Then, as it has all season, the depth of the Lady Pirates struck in the form of Halee Cashio and Erin Weinreis.
The junior wings came up with a pair of big plays to turn that four-point deficit into a lead. A trey by Cashio and a steal, followed by a lay-up to beat the first quarter horn saw the Lady Pirates take 7-6 lead into the second period.
"Halee and Erin played well in the first half and really gave us a lift. Of our top seven, different girls step up on different nights. Tonight Erin gave us lift right before the half and Cash came in and got us on the scoreboard. Once we got that first basket we could finally breathe," said Milleson.
Cashio would finish with a team-high 10 points, knocking down a pair of threes.
Ash Grove extended that lead to a 16-11 by half.
"Once we got a little traction, we were able to settle in. We hit a few threes. A three pointer in girls’ basketball is like a dunk in the men's game. That really gave us a shot in the arm," said Milleson.
The Lady Pirates six third-quarter points allowed the Lady Pats to stay alive heading into the fourth and decisive quarter. However, Ash Grove was able to thwart East Newton's full-court pressure with a stable of solid ball handlers and free-throw shooter.
"I'm really pleased with how the girls stepped up. In a late game situation like that it is really important that you have girls that want the ball in their hands. All of our kids feel comfortable with the ball in their hands late and that enabled us to break their pressure," said Milleson.
Ash Grove outscored the Lady Pats 20-13 in the fourth, going 7-of-11 from the free throw line en route to claiming its first district title in nearly a decade.
"(I am) very happy for the kids. It is our first district title since 2004 and mentally it was a big hurdle for them to clear," said Milleson.
Ash Grove will face a familiar foe in the sectional round as Fair Grove topped Strafford 64-56, setting up a Mid-Lakes rematch that the Lady Eagles won 57-52.
"Nearly every team in our conference made it to the district final. It is very representative of our conference. Both teams will be familiar with each other and it should be a great game," said Milleson.
The Ash Grove-Fair Grove rematch will be on Feb. 27 at BBC, 7:45 PM.