By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Wednesday night was the third year for the Big 8 crossover championship game and the Mt. Vernon girls were intent on winning it for the first time.
Two seasons ago the Mountaineers suffered a one-point loss to Rogersville – their only conference defeat – and missed the game altogether. Last winter Mt. Vernon lost to Nevada for the crossover title.
But the Class 4 No. 4 Mountaineers weren’t going to be stopped Wednesday at Seneca. The trio of seniors Ellie Johnston and Lacy Stokes and junior Cameryn Cassity combined for 49 points, Mt. Vernon scored 30 in the first quarter and rolled to a 70-27 victory over the Indians.
“It was an opportunity to do something we haven’t done before,” head coach Grant Berendt said. “Our kids were excited. They came out and we executed our plan defensively really well early on. I think that set the tone for us.”
Seneca, 11-14 and the Big 8 West winner, had a glimmer of hope early in the rematch. Junior Aliya Grotjohn made two early three pointers to keep her team within 7-6 a couple minutes in, but Mt. Vernon, 22-3 and the Big 8 East champ, scored on its first seven possessions and 13-of-17 in the first quarter while running out to a 30-8 lead.
Johnston, Stokes and Cassity scored 23 in the first frame.
“We try and have those quick starts,” Berendt said. “Try and set the tone for the game in our favor. Number 11 for them on the first two she hit two three’s on that right wing where we didn’t do a good job defensively but we came down and matched those possessions so they didn’t get that momentum. I was pleased. And the end of the first and into the second we started to stretch it out and kind of put the clamps down defensively.”
“They stuck to their game plan a little bit more than what we did,” Seneca coach Drew Schulte said. “I felt like in the first quarter we had a formula that was working a little bit and then they adjusted well to it and then they went back and did what makes them successful. For us we started off kind of hot, better than what we did the other night, but they adjusted well and we didn’t adjust after that.”
Mt. Vernon forced and took advantage of a bevy of turnovers and recorded at least eight steals in the first half alone. Sophomore Kadence Krempges sank a three pointer at the buzzer to end the first quarter. The Mountaineers made their first five free throws and finished the half 7-of-9 at the line.
Almost everything went right for Mt. Vernon. After Stokes’ three-point play with 18 seconds left in the half, it was a 48-12 game.
“We’re led by Lacy Stokes and Ellie Johnston,” Berendt said. “They’re two girls that are going on and playing at the next level. Both four-year varsity players. They just set the tone for us in that first half. Other kids are doing an awesome job of stepping up. Tonight was a big game for Cameryn Cassity and (junior) Raegan Boswell. Each of those kids are getting more confident each game we play. Cameryn has only played 10 games this year because of injuries so she’s just now getting her legs back. She was an all-conference kid last year, she played in four games in December and then didn’t play for six weeks. We’re just getting her back and to see her do some things she’s capable of is good to see.”
Cassity scored eight of her team-high 19 points in the fourth quarter. Senior Lisa Kruger added two buckets in the fourth. Stokes finished with 17 and Johnston scored 13.
Grotjohn scored 18 to lead the Indians.
“They’re a good team,” Schulte said. “They’ve won 22 games now. From here on out for our team we’re focused on the first person we play in districts. We’ll worry about this hopefully if we get to play for a district championship, but we’re just going to take it one game at a time. We’re not going to overlook anybody because the district’s good.”
Seneca is the third seed in Class 4 District 12 and opens against sixth seed Reeds Spring next Tuesday. Mt. Vernon is the top seed, but the Mountaineers still have a game Thursday against Springfield Catholic – their third in three days. They’ve won the first two by a combined 102 points.