By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
OZARK – Playing their third road game in five days – even when that third game is against rival Ozark – suits Nixa Lady Eagles’ coach Jennifer Perryman just fine.
Coming off victories over Jefferson City (64-45 on Jan. 26) and West Plains (50-45 on Jan. 29), the Nixa Lady Eagles traveled east on Missouri Highway 14 and knocked off the Ozark Lady Tigers 58-44 on Monday night.
“I honestly think that has helped us,” Perryman said of the three-straight road games. “Now, we are going to enjoy if we get a little bit of snow break. We need it, but I think after Saturday’s win, the last thing I wanted to do was sit. I wanted to come back and play, and I think that benefited us.
“So, just next-game, next-game mentality – and it is a big game. Our kids know – you’re at Ozark, it’s a conference, it’s a district, but at this point in the season, everyone’s a big one.”
And Monday night’s game started out like everyone knows the Nixa-Ozark rivalry to be with both teams trading baskets until Ozark used a 6-0 run for a 13-8 lead late in the first quarter. Taking a 15-12 advantage into the second, the Lady Tigers opened the quarter with a 4-0 run to extend that lead to 19-12.
But then, Nixa score nine straight points – seven straight by senior Ali Kamies – to pull ahead 21-19 before a steal and layup by Riley Boggs pulled Ozark even at 21. Back and forth the two teams went again with the Lady Eagles holding a 26-24 lead going into halftime.
“It feels good,” Kamies said of the win over Central Ozark Conference and district rival Ozark. “I have a lot of friends on that team, so we’re all really close. I think the competition was pretty even. It was just who was going to go out there and play harder, who wanted it more. It could have went either way, since we’re both really good teams. I think it meant a lot for seeding for districts because they beat Kickapoo and we lost to Kickapoo.”
Ozark, who fell to 12-5 overall and 2-1 in the COC, tied the game at 26 on two Moriah Putt free throws to open the third quarter. But the Lady Eagles (16-4, 3-0) came right back on a Kamies bucket from the wing to go back up 28-26 – a lead they would never give up the rest of the game, even though Ozark kept it close until about midway through the fourth quarter.
Ozark pulled within four (44-40) with 4:02 to go in the game when Rhianna Gibbons hit a basket to give Nixa a 46-40 lead. Following a Nixa timeout, the Lady Eagles picked up their press at halfcourt to create a turnover and a foul. And aside from a 3-pointer by Kamies, the Lady Eagles scored nine of their last 12 points from the free-throw line.
“In the first half and the second half, we just made some adjustments offensively and our kids – they just execute,” Perryman said. “When we tell them to change something, they do it. They just have basketball minds and can do it. We told them, ‘Just relax and go be you; quit thinking and go play. Be diligent in your press.’ We pulled our press back just a little bit. We had some success in that, and I just told them ‘Every rebound is attack and transition.’
“(Coach Doug Hepler) did a good job slowing us down in the first half because we wanted to go, and I knew he was going to slow us down. But we just kept trying to push and our kids just kind of found a way. We hit some big free throws in the fourth quarter, which is huge.”
Since 2009, the rivalry has been evenly matched with Nixa winning the last three matchups after Ozark had won five straight, giving the Lady Tigers a 12-11 edge over that span.
Even though he is in his first year as Ozark coach, Hepler is familiar with the rivalry, having coached most recently at nearby Spokane High School.
“I think this whole season really kind of prepares you for this stuff,” Hepler said. “It’s not like you just have an easy night off. I mean, we play somebody tough every night. It comes down to it’s kind of like a Duke-North Carolina rivalry or Michigan versus Ohio State. It was one of those things where you’re just going to have a dogfight and it carries a little bit extra weight.
“But you know, at the end of the day, the game is still the game, and we try to preach it to the girls that you’re just playing another game. You can’t see who the opponent is; you respect that opponent, but it can’t be based on just that. So, we’re working on that; we’re working on just coming out and playing basketball. I thought the girls did well for three quarters of that game. That fourth quarter got away from us a little bit, but I am proud of my team and proud of the way they fought. I have a good group of girls, and I’m excited to see what we can do.”
NIXA 58, OZARK 44
Central Ozark Conference game
OZARK (12-5, 2-1) – Riley Boggs 8, Lyla Watson 7, Molly Rushing 4, Keanna Rivera 2, Moriah Putt 8, Jordyn Foley 8, Haven Haymes 5, Alexis Solomon 2.
NIXA (16-4, 3-0) – Ali Kamies 21, Macie Conway 8, Rhianna Gibbons 11, Norah Clark 9, Lilly Mahy 7, Chloe Krans 2.
Nixa B 48, Ozark B 34