By Michael Cignoli (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
WILLARD — Addy Adamson led all scorers with 22 points, Jada Holloman added 14 and the Willard defense forced 29 turnovers as the Tigers pulled away from Nixa for a 58-48 victory in the Central Ozark Conference opener for two schools with title hopes on Monday evening.
Neither team led by more than six points until the final four minutes, when Willard senior Ariana Patillo hit a corner 3-pointer to kick off a 10-3 run that stretched Willard’s four-point lead to 53-42 with less than 1:45 to go. That proved too much for Nixa to overcome, as the Eagles couldn’t carry over any momentum from Thursday’s statement win over West Plains.
“You come off a big win last week and then you come out here and don’t show up,” said Nixa coach Jennifer Perryman, whose team fell to 11-4 overall and 0-1 in conference play. “That’s a coach’s worst nightmare. That’s a team’s worst nightmare. We really struggled tonight.”
Willard improved to 12-1 (1-0), cementing itself as the current team to beat in the COC by winning a string of nail-biters. Five of Willard’s past six victories have been decided by 10 or fewer points. They had defeated Central (twice), Lebanon and Skyline by just 21 total points.
“When you get into the postseason, there are very rarely any blowouts,” Willard coach J.J. Adamson said. “I just hope these games — these close ones that we are fortunate enough to continue to win — continue to pay dividends so that we learn our lessons in the regular season and then are able to continue our success in the postseason.”
The Tigers’ only loss came to Kickapoo in the Pink Division championship at the Pink & White Classic, as their up-tempo offense and by-committee scoring has proven difficult to stop.
Addy Adamson and Holloman led the way on Monday, but junior Madi Mills (seven points) and sophomores Carolina Crawford (six) and Kailyn Washington combined for 15 points off the bench, outscoring Nixa’s subs by 11, and maintained the pressure on the Eagles defensively.
“It starts on the defensive end,” J.J. Adamson said. “If you can’t get stops on a ball club like Nixa, they’re going to score on you. We were able to get stops and then defensive rebounds and then turn them into points at the other end.”
Addy Adamson had 12 of Willard’s 16 points in the second quarter, as she and Holloman combined for all but seven of Willard’s points in the first half. But even though they forced 18 turnovers before the break, the Tigers only entered the locker room with a 29-23 advantage.
“Honestly in the first half our energy wasn’t as good as it was in the second half,” Addy Adamson said. “We just really put our heads on straight, passed the ball and, of course, played unselfishly. That’s how we play and that’s how we got ahead.”
Willard held Nixa to just five field goals in the final 16 minutes, one of which came right before the final buzzer.
Nixa scored more points on free-throws (14) than it did on field goals (11) in the second half and Macie Conway finished the game with a team-high 16 points after going 11-of-12 from the line.
“If you would have told me we’d have committed 18 (turnovers) in a half and been down six, I would have said you’re crazy,” Perryman said. “That’s the thing. We had 18 at half and we still had a chance. For as many possessions as we gave them and took away from ourselves, we’re still in it. That should show our kids we’ve got to put our priorities, play together and execute.”