By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
NIXA – The Ava Lady Bears used a 9-0 run early in the first quarter to provide the cushion they would need for a 48-30 win over Seneca in a Class 4 sectional Tuesday night at Nixa High School.
The win boosted the ninth-ranked Lady Bears, who improved to 22-5 overall and were 15-1 over their last 16 games coming into Tuesday night’s game, on to the quarterfinal round.
“Defensively, I felt like we guarded and rebounded well the whole game,” Ava coach Nathan Houk said. “(Seneca’s) got two really good guards and we knew we had to keep them out of the lane and keep them from getting in the middle and contest shots. We got some steals out of our half-court defense there in the second half and got some easy buckets there to kind of extend our lead. And then it seems like we just hit a big 3 at the right time throughout the game to kind of put it out of reach.”
Seneca senior Aliya Grotjohn scored six first-half points, while her younger sister, freshman Hazley, led the way with nine points on three 3-pointers – all in the second quarter – to pull the Lady Indians with seven (25-18) going into halftime.
Coming out of the locker room, Ava’s 6-foot-2 junior Sara Mendel got things going for the Lady Bears by scoring on a putback for a 27-18 advantage.
But Hazley Grotjohn answered with a bucket before picking up her fourth foul with 6:45 to go in the third quarter. Those were the last points that Hazley would score as she picked up foul No. 5 with 3:30 left in the third.
“That limited them a little bit offensively,” Houk said. “Celia (Fossett) did a really good job of guarding her. She’s a really good player and both she and her sister hit some big shots throughout the game to just kind of keep us from putting it away. Then when she fouled out, it kind of limited them offensively, and we were able to get some things done defensively to extend our lead.”
Aliya Grotjohn, who collected more than 1,900 points in her career, led the Lady Indians with 16 points, while Hazley added 11.
“It definitely took the wind out of our sails a little bit,” Seneca coach Drew Schulte said of losing Hazley to foul trouble. “But you know, one person doesn’t define an entire team. We just didn’t hit shots tonight – they did. They’re a good ballclub. They work inside-outside, and they stuck to their game plan tonight, and we didn’t necessarily.”
Seneca, which ended its season 22-7, played Ava even in the third, but the Lady Bears went on a 10-0 run to open the fourth quarter and did not allow a Lady Indians basket until the 2:48 mark.
“I feel like we’ve got a good team that works together on both ends of the floor, and we just got stronger defensively as the game progressed,” Houk said.
And a key to the Lady Bears’ play on both ends of the floor was senior guard Hannah Evans, who led Ava with 14 points.
“I think our key was just to kind of keep our heads,” Evans said. “It’s a huge game for us. It’s the biggest we’ve ever played in. We came in with a plan and we just had to execute that plan as a team and as a family.”
The Lady Bears will face Helias Catholic in the quarterfinal round on Saturday at Lebanon High School. Ava’s past three sectional appearances all ended with a loss (2021, 2011, 2010), so the team is excited to take another step deeper in the postseason.
“It’s an amazing feeling just how we executed as a team. We just really came together this game, and I think we really showed what we’re capable of. We’ve just got to keep our energy up, and we’ve got to keep going the way we are. I think we have the opportunity to go all the way.”
AVA 48, SENECA 30
Class 4 sectional game
SENECA (22-7) – Aliya Grotjohn 16, Hazley Grotjohn 11, Samarah Mittag 3.
AVA (22-5) – Sara Mendel 12, Hannah Evans 14, Olivia Gastineau 8, Lexie Gastineau 8, Celia Fossett 4, Keeley Akers 2.
Up next: Class 4 quarterfinals – Ava vs. Helias Catholic, 1 p.m. Saturday at Lebanon High School