By Scott Vanscoy (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Class 2 District 11 final was held in Blue Eye on Thursday night with rival SWCL schools Blue Eye (22-5) and Crane (15-8) battling for the title. Blue Eye used a strong second half to come away with the convincing 63-36 win.
“Districts, it’s go time,” said Blue Eye coach Ken Elfrink. “This week’s been a tough week and playing Crane; Crane’s our rival. Last time Crane was in the finals they beat us four years ago. I knew they were very well coached. I knew how they were going to come out. We played them earlier in the year and we beat them, and I knew that they were going to come out and be physical and be determined. They’ve got great kids and a great program.”
The first quarter saw the Blue Eye Bulldogs struggle with the Crane Pirates’ inside game, as the Pirates’ post players controlled the boards and scored when they got the ball down low. The Bulldogs started to apply pressure to the Pirates’ guards and they could not feed the posts as easily as they could in the first part of the quarter. Blue Eye led Crane at the end of the first quarter, 19-7.
Both teams seemed a little jittery but Blue Eye recovered first and started to control the game in the second quarter. Crane was forced into turnovers and was outrebounded by the Bulldogs. Crane found themselves down 34-23 going into the locker room at the half. Things would get no better for Crane in the second half.
Blue Eye came out in the second half determined to end things quickly. Its press was relentless and rebounding was aggressive. Crane had six straight possessions where they turned the ball over and Blue Eye turned those into points. Blue Eye also had several offensive rebounds that they put back in for uncontested scores. Leading Blue Eye in the third quarter was junior Kyla Warren.
“Before tonight’s game I had a case of the jitters,” said Warren. “When the game started I was very focused. I spent this whole day preparing and focusing for it, getting myself hyped up. I think my teammates really did that, too.”
The game quickly turned into a blowout and when Crane sophomore Zoe Reel was injured on a play you could see the air come out of her team. Reel had 14 points for Crane and left the game in the third quarter. Blue Eye led at the end of three, 57-30.
“Buzzsaw,” said Crane coach Jeremy Mullins. “Blue Eye is strong, they’re physical, they’ve got the twins that can make it from outside or take you to the hole. I thought the first half we hung with them but not as much as I’d like to. We got some little skip passes that they overlooked so I thought we were able to hit that seam. In the third quarter I thought we had like 4,000 turnovers in a row so that didn’t help our cause. Then we quit rebounding. When Zoe went out we were down 25, 26. It took the air out of our balloon if we had any in there to begin with. Give credit to Blue Eye, great coach, great team. They play extremely hard and the system he has them running is good. They played every facet of the game.”
The leading scorer of the night was Blue Eye junior Riley Arnold with 26 points.
“It was a battle all night, I thought we played really well as a team,” said Riley Arnold. “We came together and we fought hard tonight. Defensively, forcing turnovers is something that we’ve worked on all year and it’s really been paying off for us and we’ve turned them into fast breaks. It really doesn’t matter who scores the points as long as we put the ball in the hole. I think it’s just our attitudes and out mindsets towards the game and how we all play for each other. That’s really special about this team.”
The fourth quarter saw both coaches empty the bench halfway through to let other girls experience what it feels like to play in a district title game. With a 30 point lead, coach Elfrink saw no reason to run up the score. The final score was 63-36.
“We kind of settled down in the second quarter,” said Elfrink. “In the third quarter, I can’t say enough about my kids, we just kind of turned it up a little bit. We just kept doing what we do and I think Crane got tired and the pressure got to them. My kids played hard. It was a battle, you can look at the score and look at the difference but we had to work for it, it wasn’t easy. Crane makes you work and they are tough. Our press kind of got to them and it does a lot of teams. We created some havoc with it. Defensively we just kept grinding out and we created some easy baskets on the fast breaks. The kids just played hard, I can’t say enough about them.”
Crane—Gracie Rich-3, Morgan Cleveland-2, Kailey Vaught-3, Gracie Brawley-6, Danielle Cutbirth-6, Zoe Reel-14, Celsie Killman-2
Blue Eye—Avery Arnold-5, Riley Arnold-26, Gracyn Fairchild-2, Kyla Warren-21, Makayla Johnson-1, Samantha George-8
Crane 7 16 7 6 36
Blue Eye 19 15 23 6 63