By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Republic, Mo. — Blue Eye’s defense set the tone early in Saturday’s Class 2 quarterfinal clash with Mansfield.
The Lady Bulldogs’ offense wasn’t too shabby, either.
After jumping out early in the first quarter, Blue Eye rolled to a 60-46 victory.
Kohnnar Patton and Avery Arnold each scored 17 points to lead Blue Eye to its first final four berth in school history.
Arnold, a 5-foot-7 sophomore, scored 14 points in the first half, connecting on four 3-pointers during the span.
A full-court press and smothering perimeter defense served as catalysts for the Lady Bulldogs’ early scoreboard onslaught.
After a 14-2 run to start the game, Blue Eye dialed up a 10-3 blitz to start the second quarter.
By the time the dust settled, the District 11 champions had built a commanding 24-7 advantage.
“Our defense is what we key on,” Blue Eye head coach Ken Elfrink said. “We fly around, we trust each other and we create these opportunities to get to the free throw line. That opens up the outside shot, and when we’re shooting well, that’s kind of a dagger.”
While Arnold paced the Lady Bulldogs in the opening half, the second belonged to Patton.
The senior all-state selection keyed a crucial 13-2 run with three-straight baskets to open the third quarter and finished the half with 13 points.
Elfrink praised his senior leader’s decision-making and patience.
“Going into halftime, I didn’t realize that she had maybe four points, because Avery got hot and other kids got involved in the offense,” Elfrink said of Patton’s performance. “Kohnnar knew that’s where we were going, and she was being keyed on, but she continued to attack and had some big, big shots. Finally, [Mansfield] got a little tired, too.”
For Patton, the final four berth checks off both dream and redemption categories — Blue Eye fell in the sectional and quarterfinal rounds in the past two seasons.
“It tears you apart when you get there and don’t make it through, but since we made it through, it’s awesome,” Patton said. “We knew we had to be ready, and we knew if we were going to have a chance to win, we were going to have to get them on their toes, and that’s what we did.”
The Lady Lions were led by Jada Hendry and Chloe Lansdown, who scored 16 and 13 points, respectively.
Despite the loss, Mansfield head coach Gary Greene praised his team for continuing to battle after falling behind early.
“I think a lot of people thought we might lay down and just let [Blue Eye] run away with it,” Greene said. “We didn’t. We fought, and that’s what they’ve done all year — fought and competed. We just got beat by a better team.”
Following the program’s first district title in 25 years, Mansfield ends its season in the quarterfinal round with a 24-7 record.
Up next for the 27-4 Lady Bulldogs is a semifinal round matchup at Springfield’s JQH Arena on Friday, March 13.
Elfrink, in his 22nd season, will coach in the final four for the first time.
“It’s pretty sweet, you know,” Elfrink said. “22 years, and it’s my fourth quarter final. We’ve been there four times, and we got over the hump, so it’s pretty special. They tell me I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.”
Class 2 Quarterfinal: Blue Eye – 60, Mansfield – 46
Mansfield 04 09 13 20 — 46
Blue Eye 14 13 17 16 — 60
Mansfield scoring: Jada Henry – 16, Chloe Lansdown – 13, Lauren Jones – 8, Logan Jones – 6, Haley Tripp – 2, Raine Roy – 1
Blue Eye scoring: Kohnnar Patton – 17, Avery Arnold – 17, Kyla Warren – 9, Riley Arnold – 7, Maddie Box – 6, Makayla Johnson – 4