By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
In an early season marquee matchup between state-ranked teams, it was the Carl Junction girls who made a statement Thursday night.
Keyed by a game-high 19 points from 6-foot-3 senior Katie Scott, the Class 4 seventh-ranked Bulldogs cruised to a 53-39 over fifth-ranked Nevada in the CJ Classic championship.
“I thought our kids played really hard tonight,” said Carl Junction coach Brad Shorter. “I thought that was the hardest I’ve seen us play in a while. We matched the intensity. Nevada’s got a great team, they’re very well coached, their kids played hard and they’ve got multiple shooters but I thought our kids did a terrific job running them off the line a little bit and forcing them to drive and playing simply with our hands up to contest shots and take their shots away.”
Nevada, 2-1, led for the first two minutes of the game thanks to a pair of free throws by junior Tylin Heathman and a layup by senior Teagan Charles.
The visitors forced several Carl Junction (3-0) turnovers in the early minutes of the game, as well. But Nevada was cold shooting from three-point range and once Scott got going for the Bulldogs it was an uphill climb for the Tigers.
Scott, a Drury signee, made her first basket while sitting on the floor after stealing the ball. She went on to score eight points in the first quarter to help the Bulldogs open up a nine-point lead while Nevada went nearly six minutes without scoring points. Carl Junction led 14-7 after a quarter.
A three pointer by Nevada senior Hailee Lundine at the 3:14 mark and a basket by senior Lindley Ferry with 2:43 left in the half cut it to 20-16, but Carl Junction senior Dani Wrensch made consecutive three pointers from the corner and then senior Shila Winder added a free throw in the final minute to give the Bulldogs a 27-16 halftime lead.
“They rushed our shots,” Nevada coach Brent Bartlett said. “They were out guarding us and contesting every shot so they did a good job. Whenever we did penetrate we had to shoot over a 6-3 girl with a big wing span so that made it tough for us.”
Carl Junction extended its lead to 13 points after senior Taylor Hughes scored to open the third quarter.
Nevada answered with a 10-2 run to get back into it. Senior Payge Dahmer and junior Alison Bower each made three pointers on the run – Bower’s came with 4:17 left in the third and made it 31-26.
“During that time when we went on that run to increase the lead, we had our speed group in there and were able to get some turnovers and turn them into some points or at least some really quality possessions,” Shorter said. “When they went on their little run I think the thing that hurt was the most was the rebounding. We did a pretty good job of boxing off but sometimes we didn’t finish it by going and getting the basketball. It came down to a few things there. They were in some good little sets that we weren’t aware of.”
Nevada’s momentum didn’t last.
Scott scored with 3:12 on the clock and that started a 9-0 run for the Bulldogs, who extended their lead to 42-28 on Scott’s final basket of the quarter. She scored nine points in the third.
“It took a little air out of us but that’s what two good teams are going to do, make runs at each other,” Bartlett said.
It was mostly a double-digit game after that. Nevada twice cut it to nine in the fourth quarter but a Winder three pointer proved the final dagger with a minute to play. Freshman Destiny Buerge added a pair of free throws in the final minute for good measure.
In addition to Scott’s 19, Carl Junction’s Winder scored 11 for the Bulldogs.
Nevada was led by eight points apiece from Ferry and Bower.
Both squads were well-represented on the all-tournament team.
Nevada’s Dahmer, Bower and Calli Beshore were each selected, as was Carl Junction’s Winder, Seneca sophomore Aliya Grotjohn and Springdale senior Thaly Sysavanh.
Scott was named tournament MVP.
“She’s such a headsy player,” Shorter said. “She’s super intelligent and understands it. She’s very unselfish. Her sophomore year I had to beg her to shoot sometimes because she’s so unselfish. She’s just a terrific kid. Now in that senior role she’s looking to score when we need it, to be that rock for us. Katie’s just a fabulous player and she’d be the first to tell you her teammates will give her the ball and make that happens sometimes but she’s going to give it right back to them. She was huge tonight.”
Scott, who averaged 21.5 points and 8.5 rebounds last season, has made herself into an even better player this year, said Bartlett.
“I thought she had a tremendous game,” he said.