By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
NIXA – The Carl Junction Lady Bulldogs remained unbeaten on the season with a 41-33 Class 4 sectional victory over the West Plains Lady Zizzers on Tuesday night.
And, while Katie Scott had a quiet first half, offensively, she still made her presence known in leading the Lady Bulldogs, now 27-0 overall, to the quarterfinal round on Saturday.
Scott, who recently was named the Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year, scored just four first-half points, but dished out three assists in getting her teammates involved.
“Definitely, there are times this year where I think that I’ve been slow to get into a game, and I feel like my shooting isn’t there,” Scott said. “So, I try to do things like get steals, get rebounds, and that kind of helps me get into the game, and you just forget about the misses and you forget about the mistakes.”
And, the Drury University signee had a short memory because she came back in the second half to score 15 points for a game-high 19.
“I have to give all the credit to my teammates,” Scott said. “They had a lot of amazing passes, and set me up perfectly. They did all the work and I just got the points for it, I’d say. It’s really a great thing for both our teammates and the community (to advance).”
West Plains got out to an early 9-5 lead at the end of the first quarter behind Ashton Judd’s four points and MacKenzie Brunson’s three. But, Taylor Hughes and Destiny Buerge combined for nine of the Lady Bulldogs’ 14 second-quarter points, as they pulled ahead 19-17 going into halftime.
“We missed some shots early, some 3s that were a little long. It just didn’t feel like we had settled in,” Carl Junction coach Brad Shorter said, “a little nervousness, a little bit, and that’s going to be expected. But once we kind of settled in and took care of the ball, that was huge. I challenged them at halftime to stop turning the ball over. We had 12 turnovers in the first half; I think we just had two in the second, so that’s a big difference. I think that was the reason for that ‘W’ was fewer turnovers in the second half.”
The Lady Bulldogs opened the second half with a 6-0 run, but West Plains came right back with a 6-0 run of its own to keep it a two-point game (29-27). Scott picked up her third foul with 1:50 left in the third, but the Lady Zizzers were unable to capitalize on her absence and Carl Junction took a 32-27 lead into the fourth quarter.
Carl Junction extended its lead to 10 (37-27) on five straight points from Scott, but West Plains wasn’t finished. Cass Cunningham hit a 3 from the wing to pull within seven (37-30) with 1:44 to go, but the deficit was too big to overcome.
“You know West Plains is never going to quit,” Shorter said. “Coach (Scott) Womack does such an awesome job with them. He’s a great coach and I respect him so much and everything that he’s done in that program.
“But, they’re going to keep fighting. We talked about it; you can’t let up for one second; they’re going to hit a 3 and sure enough, they hit two of them. But, we kept fighting and we grinded that thing out, and it’s a good win for our program.”
The loss to Carl Junction was just the second of the season for West Plains (27-2), and its only loss to a team from Missouri. The Lady Zizzers’ only other loss came to Fort Smith-Northside (Ark.) in the championship of the Pink Division (55-53) on Dec. 30, 2019.
“We’d won 17 in a row and we were hoping to get a few more in a row,” Womack said. “But, we just ran into a better team tonight.
“I thought in the second half, we were a little bit timid and passive. We just passed up a lot of shots that normally we hit. I knew going in we were going to have to shoot the ball well, but we just couldn’t turn the ball over like we did, and give a couple of rebounds, especially off the free throw line that really hurt us in crucial situations. But, I’m just so proud of this group and how they competed all year long.”
Cunningham led the Lady Zizzers with 14 points and Brunson added 10.
The Lady Bulldogs’ last loss came to Logan-Rogersville in the Class 4 sectionals almost exactly one year ago (March 5, 2019.) The year before that, Carl Junction got past Logan-Rogersville and advanced all the way to the Class 4 championship game where it fell to Incarnate Word Academy.
“We’ve felt the need to prove ourselves this year after a tough loss last year,” Scott said. “We were down a little bit last year, and I think that we’ve shown a lot of maturity. We’ve worked harder than, I’d say, any team in the state this year, just perfecting ourselves and getting back into it, to show that a bunch of small-town girls can do it, too.”
CLASS 4 SECTIONALS
CARL JUNCTION 41, WEST PLAINS 33
WEST PLAINS 9-8-10-6—33
CARL JUNCTION 5-14-13-9—41
WEST PLAINS (27-2) – MacKenzie Brunson 10, Bre Harlan 3, Ashton Judd 6, Cass Cunningham 14.
CARL JUNCTION (27-0) – Katie Scott 19, Dani Wrensch 3, Shila Winder 6, Taylor Hughes 8, Destiny Buerge 5.
Up next: Class 4 quarterfinal – Carl Junction vs. Sullivan, 1 p.m. Saturday at Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar