The Purdy High School gym hosted an important pre-Christmas showdown in the Ozark 7 Conference on Friday, Dec. 19. The Exeter Lady Tigers, gaining momentum going into the holiday break, put their undefeated record on the line against the 3-3 Purdy Lady Eagles.
With only the one conference loss to Joplin McAuley, Purdy was still in the thick of the conference race. McAuley still owned a perfect conference record, having dealt Southwest its lone league setback.
Exeter overcame a horrendous first half of shooting that saw Purdy take a 30-27 lead into the locker room, and rode an 18-7 third quarter run to an impressive 59-47 victory.
The Purdy girls had a great opportunity, with their home-court advantage, to move into the Ozark 7 championship picture. They also felt the pressure of knowing that a pair of early conference losses might eliminate them from that scene. Plus, the Lady Eagles were anything but fresh following a physical battle with Wheaton on the preceding night.
Sophomore guard Brooke Swadley sported an impressive black eye. Leading scorer Shelby White was questionable after leaving the Wheaton contest with an ankle injury. Audrey Patton, at 5' 11" the only Lady Eagle capable of battling with Exeter's superb Whitney Edie inside, wore a shield on her broken left pinky -- another memento from the Wheaton struggle.
The early shooting woes of the Lady Tigers suggested that they were the team more affected by the moment. While Whitney Edie missed her first shot of the evening, Purdy's Addy Roller stopped and popped a trey on the following possession. Exeter missed a variety of shots in the first four minutes but still led 8-3 when Shelby Bowman buried a trey of her own.
Exeter's defense kept Purdy at bay until Roller sank her second three-pointer of the quarter at the buzzer, to pull the home team back within a basket at 15-13.
With the home crowd on its feet, the Lady Eagles rode an adrenaline rush in the second quarter. Patton, playing virtually one-handed throughout the contest, twisted past Edie in the lane and scored to earn a tie at 15-15. After Exeter used an Edie basket and pair of free throws to build a 19-17 lead, Roller unloaded her third bomb of the night and Purdy led, 20-19.
It would have been easier for Exeter to buy an Illinois Senate seat than a basket during their miserable first half of shooting. But even though Purdy built a 30-27 lead at halftime, the tide was already turning in the Lady Tigers' favor. Whitney Edie came alive and scored 6 points in the final 5:05 of the half, with her last basket dropping with four seconds remaining.
It seemed that Exeter had finally solved the puzzle of Purdy's morphing defensive scheme, or maybe emotion and adrenaline had carried the host team as far as possible.
The halftime deficit could have been larger. Twice, the Lady Eagles wasted precious opportunities by overthrowing outlet passes on fast breaks with guards running wide open to the basket.
Both teams benefited from the intermission, and the intense struggle resumed with Purdy maintaining the lead. The Lady Eagles enjoyed their largest second half lead when Swadley dropped a pair of free throws and the score stood at 35-31 with 5:14 remaining in the third period. Who could know that Purdy would only score 2 more points in that crucial remaining span of the quarter?
Exeter exploded on a 14-2 run to finish the third, and Whitney Edie only scored one of those, a solitary free throw with less than two seconds on the clock. Shelby Bowman of the Lady Tigers poured in 8 points, while Destani Stensrud added a trey, and Kasie Scott chipped in a basket.
The Lady Eagles had run out of gas. Less than three minutes into the fourth quarter, the Exeter girls took their first double-digit lead at 49-39.
Following a timeout, Shelby White was fouled in the act of shooting and made two clutch free throws to pull Purdy within 8 points. Then Exeter left the door open for a Purdy comeback with a careless backcourt violation, but the Lady Eagles could not score on that critical possession and the lead increased steadily as the clock wound down.
Despite an off shooting night, Edie led Exeter with 23 points and owned the boards when it counted in the second half. Bowman scored 18 and Stensrud had 12 for the Lady Tigers.
Shelby White was Purdy's high scorer with 16, and Addy Roller added 15.
A tired but satisfied Jason Cole bemoaned his Exeter team's shooting performance.
"In the first half, we got the shots we needed but we just couldn't hit," said Coach Cole.
Cole changed defenses at half, going with a triangle and two to stifle Purdy's long range shooters, an adjustment that paid great dividends as the game progressed.
Exeter and Joplin McAuley are the only two remaining Ozark 7 girls teams with unblemished conference records. A game matching the two teams that was postponed due to inclement weather has been rescheduled for Jan. 12.