By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Thursday night was as good a time as any for Carl Junction’s 30-game winning streak – the longest active streak in the state – to come to an end.
Better December than March.
“Exactly,” Carl Junction coach Brad Shorter said.
Visiting Nixa played spoiler as the Eagles earned a hard-fought 63-53 victory in the championship game of the CJ Classic, handing the Bulldogs their first loss since March 5, 2019.
“We’ve got a lot to learn,” Nixa coach Jennifer Perryman said. “I think we’ve got a lot of skillset and a lot of potential but we’re not even close to where we want to be. We learned a lot of lessons tonight and any time you can learn those lessons and still come out on top it’s a good thing so I’m proud of our kids. I’m proud of our mindset. This time last year we might have folded but our mindset tonight was to stick together and pull it out.”
The Eagles (4-0) built a 10-point lead midway through the third quarter and still led 49-39 early in the fourth before the Bulldogs (2-1) pulled within a point in the final minutes.
Five-straight points by Carl Junction sophomore Hali Shorter keyed a 14-5 run. Sophomore Destiny Buerge grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to make it 54-49 with 4:22 left in the game, then scored on a pull up jumper the next time down the floor to make it a one-possession game.
After two Nixa turnovers, Carl Junction junior Jessa Hylton made a free throw with 2:48 remaining and added another at the 2:15 mark to make it 54-53.
The Eagles were clutch at the free throw line, though, making 9 of 12 in the fourth quarter. A pair of free throws by junior Rhianna Gibbons made it 56-53 with 1:49 left.
Nixa employed full-court pressure and forced a turnover seconds later and sophomore Norah Clark scored with 1:41 on the clock to make it 58-53.
The Bulldogs came up empty handed on their final five possessions of the game, while Nixa added a free throw by junior Alison Kamies and then four more by junior Macie Conway to seal it.
“The fact they whittled it down to (one) is an issue we need to talk about,” Perryman said. “I don’t think our decision making was very good tonight and part of that is because of their defensive pressure and Brad’s preparation on us. I feel like every time we got to a point where we could break away we made decisions that let them back in. We’ve got to get to a point where we can still play our game and our pace of play but make better decisions. I think our press, every time we lost the lead our press and our defense got us back in it.”
Carl Junction led 15-13 after the first quarter and twice led by as many as five points in the second quarter as Nixa struggled offensively. The Eagles committed six turnovers in the second and made just one field goal in the first six minutes.
Freshman Jacy Bray grabbed an offensive rebound and scored with 2:03 left in the half, then Gibbons added a three pointer less than a minute later. Senior Adelyn Weaver tied the game at 24 with a free throw at the 40-second mark, and Kamies made a free throw with 7.4 seconds left to give her team a one-point lead at the break.
Nixa shot 68-percent from the line, making 19 of 28 free throw attempts.
Carl Junction, meanwhile, made 15 of 23 for 65 percent. The Bulldogs only made 3 of 8 in the fourth quarter, though.
“I’m just super proud of our kids for playing as hard as they did tonight,” Shorter said. “I thought they played extremely hard against a very well-coached team, a very talented team. We knew they were talented when they got in the tournament because of what we saw last year and they add the Conway sisters into the mix. Great basketball team. I think it was a one-point game with about two minutes to go, so we had a shot. Our youth came through a little bit but at the same time we just missed a few. We’ll get there. I’m very proud of our kids.”
Perryman credited the Bulldogs with playing more physical than her team, something that caught the Eagles off guard.
“We knew what they were going to come out in x’s and o’s but they were extra physical on the ball,” she said. “They were in the passing lanes, they were physical under the basket and that’s where we really lack. We’ve been preaching rebounding and physicality all summer and all fall and I think tonight was a really good lesson for our kids.”
Macie Conway led Nixa with 17 points, Gibbons added 14 and Kamies scored 12.
Buerge led all scorers with 27 points for Carl Junction. Hylton and Shorter both scored eight.
Destiny Buerge, Carl Junction
Kylie Scott, Carl Junction
Tylin Heathman, Nevada
Olivia Hixson, Neosho
Norah Clark, Nixa
Ali Kamies, Nixa
Tournament MVP: Macie Conway, Nixa