By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
With a two-point lead and about 20 seconds remaining in the game, Anna Hitt made two crucial free throws to send the Ozark Lady Tigers to the White Division championship game of the Pink & White Lady Classic with a 48-44 win over Republic on Saturday night.
“We go back to last year and Anna had some situations where she didn’t come through at the free-throw line; she shot a low percentage,” Ozark coach David Brewer said. “She’s worked really hard at it and to see her come up there in that situation and basically not even hit the rim… Hard work pays off, and so it was big for her, and I think it will build confidence from the free-throw line for the rest of the year.”
And, a little positive self-talk didn’t hurt, either.
“I was like, I just need to take my time and just knock them down,” Hitt said. “‘You’ve got this, Anna.’ I was going through my head, ‘You can do this. Just take your time and shoot it.’ I tried not to worry too much, so I just took my time and shot it.”
In a battle of Central Ozark Conference foes, the first half was a close, back-and-forth affair with Ozark leading 25-24 going into intermission. Republic struck first in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Jade Kirby to pull ahead 27-25. A 7-0 Ozark run gave the Lady Tigers a cushion that they would eventually extend to 11 points in the fourth quarter.
“It was a real good battle the first half and we happened to come up with that one-point lead,” Brewer said. “We did extend ourselves and did a nice job offensively and defensively, there. We knew they were going to make a run; that’s who they are.
“Then, we figured we’d make a run. They beat us on a last-second shot last year, and we figured that’s what it was going to be. So, don’t get too up when you make a good run and don’t get too down when you make a bad run because we’re going to come back.”
And, like Brewer said, Republic, which snapped Strafford’s state-record win streak at 123-straight games the night before, wasn’t finished.
Ozark extended its lead to 44-33 in the fourth quarter on a Madi Braden to Riley Boggs basket. Kaemyn Bekemeier then pulled down an Ozark miss and went coast-to-coast to score and pull Republic within 44-35. That was the beginning of a 9-0 Republic run that cut Ozark’s lead to 44-42 with 2:40 to go in the game.
“This is one of those games where the kids automatically get motivated or get themselves prepared and fired up,” Republic coach Kris Flood said. “I thought we hit a little bit of a wall there, especially right after halftime. That third quarter was critical. They made a little run at us and they had some really nice possessions, stretched out the lead. We had to exert quite a bit to try and fight our way back, and we did. We fought our way back into it.”
The two teams traded trips to the free-throw line. Braden knocked down two for Ozark (46-42), but two misses left the door open for Republic. And, after sealing Republic’s win the night before, Jazzy Kirby hit both of her free throws to make the score 46-44 with 35.2 seconds left.
But, Hitt’s two free throws secured Ozark’s first trip back to a Pink & White Lady Classic championship since 2013.
“I think one of the unique things about this tournament is when you get to this level, you’re going to play somebody good that’s local and now we have the opportunity to play somebody really good that’s national,” Brewer said. “We’ve played some good teams already early, so we’re kind of used to that. So, now it’s just a matter of us using this as a building block. If we win it, great; be aggressive and use it as a building block to help us for the conference and district time.”
No. 2 Ozark 48, No. 6 Republic 44
Pink & White Lady Classic
White Division – Semifinal game
OZARK 48, REPUBLIC 44
REPUBLIC (5-3) – Delaney Smith 6, Jazzy Kirby 9, Clara Fronabarger 5, Jade Kirby 8, Savana Powell-Goodman 10, Kaemyn Bekemeier 6.
OZARK (9-2) – Katie Mayes 14, Anna Hitt 11, Madi Braden 4, Olivia Hanks 8, Moriah Putt 8, Lyla Watson 3, Riley Boggs 2.
Up next: Republic vs. Melbourne, 2:30 p.m., Monday at O’Reilly Family Event Center; Ozark vs. Classen, 5:30 p.m., Saturday at O’Reilly Family Event Center