By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
With her team clinging to a one-possession lead, Mt. Vernon senior Lacy Stokes went to the free throw line three times in the final minute for 1-and-1 opportunities.
The Missouri Southern commit made all six shots and was 8-for-8 in the fourth quarter as the Mountaineers held off visiting Hollister 43-40 Monday night in the conference opener for two teams vying for the Big 8 East championship.
“That’s what your point guard should do for you, especially a point guard of her caliber,” Mt. Vernon head coach Grant Berendt said. “She put us on her back late when the ball was in her hands and she had a big tie up for the ball to come back to us and she had a big deflection late that was huge. And she guarded another Division 2 caliber guard all night long.”
Stokes finished with a game-high 27 points, while Hollister senior Kendrick “Bug” Bailey – who will play at Harding University – scored 20 for the Tigers.
Hollister led by seven points, 26-19, with four-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter, but Mt. Vernon pulled within 28-25 by the end of the quarter thanks in part to five-straight points by junior Raegan Boswell.
Stokes tied it up with a three pointer in the first minute of the fourth, and she made another three more than a minute later – thanks to an offensive rebound by Boswell – that made it 33-30 Mountaineers with 6:05 remaining.
Mt. Vernon led 37-30 with five minutes remaining after another Boswell basket, capping an 18-4 run by the Mountaineers, but Bailey scored twice to end the run and sophomore Brisa Gere scored on an inbound play to make it 37-36 with 2:30 left in the game.
Stokes forced a jump ball with 1:07 remaining and went to the line with 42 seconds on the. Her free throws made it 39-36, but Bailey added two of her own 15 seconds later to keep it a one-point game.
Stokes made two more with 20 seconds to play, then stole the ball and was fouled with 7.9 seconds on the clock to seal the game with two more free throws.
Hollister junior Jackie Pyatt scored at the buzzer to cut it to three.
“Like I’ve said since the beginning we’re a second half team and when it comes down to the choke minute we get the stops we need to and hit the shots we need to,” Stokes said. “We just know when we need to step up to win.”
Stokes scored 10 points in the first quarter but was held to just three total in the second and third before adding 14 more in the fourth.
“I started off not hitting too good in the first quarter,” she said. “I probably missed more shots than I made but the second half I kind of calmed down at halftime and really focused on putting it down at the free throw line, taking a breath.”
She was 11-for-13 at the line in the game.
Hollister led 12-10 after the first quarter and 22-18 at halftime.
Stokes credited a halftime defensive adjustment – moving one of the team’s more athletic defenders up top to limit three pointers – with the second-half turnaround.
“I think our defense kind of propelled us back into it and we kind of locked down, focused on who was hitting and who wasn’t instead of getting caught chasing,” she said.
The Tigers made four three pointers in the first half and none in the second.
“When we had a seven point lead I think we gave up eight points in transition,” Hollister coach Jimmy Lincoln said. “I think offensively we made two or three mistakes where they got some breakouts on some turnovers, bad turnovers. You can’t make a turnover at 25 feet from the basket because it’s usually a layup at the other end. It’s just one of those things, the game of basketball is runs. I know we went on a little run a couple times and took some leads against them.
“If you had told me before the game started we’d get the ball down by one late in the ballgame over here, we’d have taken it,” he said. “We just ran a play honestly we haven’t run all year long and it just didn’t work out. They’re a quality team, they’ve got quality players and I just felt like tonight the best way of saying it is without dogging on anybody, I thought their role players out-played our role players and I think that’s where we got beat. They did a better job defensively and rebounding than our role players did.”
Berendt said the Mountaineers finally got some shots to fall in the second half after a cold-shooting first two quarters.
“They did a good job taking away a few of our strengths but I thought we got good looks at the basket and we had four or five layups just roll off,” he said. “We had a three from a kid shooting around 35 percent rim in and rim out. I feel like we finally got some belief and some shots to start falling and I felt like we got stops, multiple stops.”
Boswell scored seven points for Mt. Vernon (9-2, 1-0) and senior Ellie Johnston added five.
Hollister, with dropped to 10-2 (0-1), received eight points from senior Nesa Clarida and seven from junior Gabby Franciskovich.
Monday was the fifth game in eight days for Mt. Vernon, which dropped two games in the Pink and White Tournament to Kickapoo and Skyline.
“We’re finding our toughness,” Berendt said. “We are fighting some injuries. Cameryn Cassity is still out, we don’t know for how long. We hope to get her back and she’s an all-conference player for us. She makes a big difference.”