By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Kickapoo Lady Chiefs returned to the winner’s circle Thursday afternoon with their second-straight championship in the Pink and White Lady Classic.
After taking home the White Division title last year, the Lady Chiefs held off the Republic Lady Tigers 50-39 to capture the Pink Division championship at the O’Reilly Family Event Center on the Drury University campus.
“Winning championships aren’t easy because most of the time, you’ve got to beat some good teams, and we beat a good team and good program tonight,” Kickapoo coach Jim Pendergrass said. “I’m really proud of our kids, how they stepped up. In games, you’re going to have to overcome challenges because you’re going to have some possessions that don’t go your way. Our kids were able to just keep trying to plug away and keep battling, and they did, and I am so proud of them.”
Kickapoo answered Republic’s 7-0 run to open the game with a 10-0 run of its own to take a 12-9 at the end of the first quarter. The two teams traded 3-pointers to open the second before Kickapoo went on another run, extending its lead to 12 at one point before securing a 28-19 lead going into halftime.
Republic fought back in the second half, whittled the Kickapoo lead to nine points and then to five (39-34) at the end of three.
Hope Schatz hit a 3 from the wing to pull Republic within two (39-37). Kickapoo’s Bella Fontleroy would later score on a drive to the basket to put the Lady Chiefs up four points (41-37) before Kaemyn Bekemeier answered with a drive of her own to again pull the Lady Tigers within two. But that’s as close as Republic would get.
Kickapoo closed out the game by going 7-for-10 from the free-throw line within the last three minutes, led by Kya Johnson’s 5-for-6 effort.
“We just couldn’t quite seem to get back over the top,” Republic coach Kris Flood said. “We had some opportunities, missed some shots, missed some open shots and just really struggled to get some stops when we really need to get stops.
“We’ve played them twice now in the last three weeks and it’s been that type of game every time. If we could eliminate some of the things that happened in the first half with just too many second-chance points for them, if we cut that down, I think we’re just right there. But they do a good job defensively. They make those shots hard to hit and contest a lot of stuff. If we could have hit a couple more shots, get a couple of breaks here and there, I think we were just right there.”
Fontleroy, who led all scorers with 23 points, was named the Jane A. Meyer Award recipient for an individual player who is a positive representative of the tournament and the sport.
“Honestly, I feel like each and every day we’ve woken up and just come into practice and fight hard as a team,” the Baylor signee said. “I wouldn’t be able to get this without my team. They pushed me every day. And I’m just like everybody else; I have good and bad days, too. Today, it was a little rough, but we did it together. That’s why I got this because they pushed me to be the best version of myself every time I step on a court.
“And it’s been a blessing to get to play with this team this season. Everyone was talking about how we’re not going to be as good because we lost some seniors. But I think we’re just as good if not better just because of how we build each other up. And to win this two years in a row and get this award, it’s just so special. From my freshman year, whenever we lost to Strafford in the semifinal game, to now, I feel like I’ve just grown so much as a player, and it means a whole lot.”
Bekemeier, a Missouri State commit, paced Republic with 18 points, while Schatz added 13.
“I was really proud of, especially the second half, the way my kids’ effort was,” Flood said. “It’s been a rough four days. We’ve had several kids logged several minutes and you can start seeing that sometimes with some shots coming up short, a little mental focus sometimes on free throws just little things like that. That’s part of it. (Kickapoo) just happened to score a bit more than we did, but I was proud how our kids responded in the second half and battled back and gave ourselves a chance.”
(1) KICKAPOO 50, (2) REPUBLIC 39
Pink and White Lady Classic
(2) REPUBLIC (7-3) – Mirsora Nambara 3, Hope Schatz 13, Rilynn Finley 5, Kaemyn Bekemeier 18.
(1) KICKAPOO (10-1) – Kaya Goldsby 6, Bella Fontleroy 23, Brooke Turner 2, Kya Johnson 7, Miya Nieto 8, Ariana Mosley 4.