By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After losing 85 percent of their scoring from last year’s team, the Nixa Lady Eagles are finding a way to fill that huge gap – and that’s by committee.
The third-seeded Lady Eagles used two big runs over the second and third quarters to knock off the No. 2 seed West Plains Lady Zizzers 61-47 in a Pink Division semifinal Thursday afternoon at Drury’s O’Reilly Family Event Center.
“That’s how you’re going to beat good teams is not relying on a couple (players) here and there,” Nixa coach Jennifer Perryman said. “Those seniors were so talented, but we just said, ‘Hey. We’re going to make it up. We’re just going to figure out how and who’s going to do it. It may be somebody different every night.
“Our kids know their role; they know what they do. They’re a perfect puzzle and they realize they need each other. The team chemistry… It’s a coach’s dream. In practice, in the locker room, on the bus – the chemistry is real, and the love for each other is real, and it’s being displayed out there on the court.”
Over the past few years, the two teams have battled, creating a friendly rivalry and the first quarter looked much like those previous battles. West Plains scored the final four points to take a 17-16 lead. The start of the second quarter was much the same before Nixa broke the game open.
Nixa sophomore Laila Grant scored on a baseline jumper to start the Lady Eagles’ 9-0 run, as they went on to outscore West Plains 18-8 in the second quarter and take a 34-25 halftime lead.
Sadie Conway, who has been easing back into the lineup as she recovers from an ACL injury, came in and provided a spark on defense, along with Brooke Teter and Kinley Hammitt.
CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF THE GAME
“She’s been playing a lot of minutes, but we’re still going to be conservative with it,” Perryman said of Conway. “But she’s getting to that point where I think we can go (longer). She’s been a great defensive spark and she’s been a great rebounder. She was the one that was guarding (Allyssa) Joyner when we took Norah (Clark) out for a little bit. She just brings that energy. She did a great job.”
Having faced West Plains in previous years, and already once this season (a 49-39 win on Dec. 19), Clark said the Lady Eagles, ranked No. 5 in Class 6, knew what they needed to do on Thursday.
“We talked a lot about turnovers; that was a big factor whenever we played them,” said Clark, who scored a team-high 14 points. “We had a lot of turnovers and we kind of needed to clean that up. I think we did that today.
“It’s hard to beat a good team twice. West Plains is a very good, well-coached team, and we knew this was going to be a gritty game and I think we dug in and had good energy and pulled it out.”
West Plains, which is ranked No. 2 in Class 5, fell to 8-2 after trying to dig out of a big hole early in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we matched their intensity the first quarter, and that’s what we wanted to do,” said West Plains coach Scott Womack, who picked up his 600th career win in the Lady Zizzers’ quarterfinal game. “We went down eight points in the next quarter and a half and just let it get away from us. Turnovers hurt us. We missed some crucial free throws that would have helped.
CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO OF THE GAME
“The biggest thing was when we did miss a shot, they just beat us down the floor, and we didn’t get back and were giving them easy baskets. The last time we played them, it was more of them shooting 3s that hurt us a little bit. This time, I thought we did a pretty decent job on the 3s. We just didn’t contain the inside game and they hurt us on the boards. We thought we knew what we wanted to do against them, and we didn’t execute it very well.”
Nixa will face Greenwood, Ark., at 4 p.m., Friday in the Pink Division Championship at Drury’s O’Reilly Family Event Center. West Plains will meet Columbia Rock Bridge at 1 p.m. for third place.
“We know their style, and we know what they want to stick to, so we changed things up a bit offensively,” Perryman said of Nixa’s game plan against West Plains. “Defensively, we stuck to the same game plan and I think it worked. Kinley Hammitt’s on-the-ball defense tonight was probably one of the best I’ve ever seen, and we just want to be relentless. Every time we put somebody on the floor, they know their assignments.
“Scott is a phenomenal coach. He got his 600th win (Wednesday) – that doesn’t happen by chance. We have a lot of respect for West Plains, and obviously, the last couple of years we’ve kind of built this rivalry, but it’s a very respectable rivalry. We know we’re going to play each other two to three times a year; that just kind of happens to work out that way. But, we didn’t know it would be (twice) before the end of the year, so I’m extremely proud of our kids.”
#3 NIXA 61, #2 WEST PLAINS 47
Pink and White Lady Classic
Pink Division semifinal
At O’Reilly Family Event Center
WEST PLAINS 17-8-8-14—47
NIXA (10-1) – Lilly Mahy 8, Jacy Bray 7, Allison Jones 6, Kinley Hammitt 6, Norah Clark 14, Sadie Conway 4, Karis Ferguson 5, Brooke Teter 3, Laila Grant 8.
WEST PLAINS (8-2) – Zoe Williams 5, Kaylea Dixon 14, Allyssa Joyner 4, Olivia Lawson 13, Hannah Judd 5, Drew Harris 3, Mary Claire Gohn 3.
Up next: Pink Division Championship – Nixa vs. Rock Bridge-Greenwood, Ark., winner, 4 p.m., Friday; Pink Division Third Place – West Plains vs. Rock Bridge-Greenwood, Ark., loser, 1 p.m., Friday at O’Reilly Family Event Center