The final round of games of the Lady Bears Tournament was played on Saturday, Jan. 24 at Sarcoxie. The Exeter Lady Tigers overcame a stubborn Strafford team and earned the championship trophy with a resounding 59-44 victory. The game was a rematch of last year's championship contest in which Strafford upset Exeter.
After a dull 7-7 first quarter, the large contingent of Exeter fans were restless and concerned. The Lady Indians were playing with great composure, appearing at times to be deliberately shortening the game. Plus, Whitney Edie was having trouble getting touches, much less clean shots.
The Lady Tigers noticeably increased their defensive pressure to start the second period. Exeter's Kasie Scott hit a long deuce from the left corner, and Destani Stensrud followed with a pick in the backcourt and a score for the 11-7 advantage, and Strafford coach David Brewer called for a timeout with less than a minute off the second quarter clock.
Strafford's strategy session was in vain. The Lady Tigers reeled off an 11-0 run over the first 4:08 of the period and posted an 18-7 lead before Strafford took another timeout. Shelby Bowman knocked down a trey after Edie hauled in a rebound and drove coast to coast before kicking the ball out to her teammate.
Kayla Davidson converted a pair of free throws to give Strafford its first points of the quarter, and the Exeter lead stood at 21-9. After Strafford's Jillian Hokanson nailed a three, Edie brushed off Anessa Alexander in the lane and powered up for a lay-up. Edie drew a foul with :28 left in the half and hit both shots for a 26-14 Exeter half-time lead.
After being blitzed 19-7 in the second quarter, Strafford methodically chipped away at the lead,and cut the margin to a mere 7 points when Ashlee Jackson hit her free throws at the 5:37 of the third period and set the score at 28-21 in favor of the Tigers.
The lead swayed from 7 to 9 points and back again as the third quarter passed, and Strafford called for a timeout with :56 remaining. That's when disaster struck for the Lady Indians.
Following the timeout, Strafford took the floor with six players. The zebras noticed the discrepancy immediately and correctly whistled Strafford for a technical foul. Edie tickled the twine with both free throws with only the official in proximity and then the Lady Tigers received possession of the ball as well. Edie scored almost immediately from the left block, and Exeter held a 42-29 lead.
Stensrud drove for one final basket in the period and Exeter led 44-29 with only the fourth quarter remaining.
The technical snafu proved to be too much for Strafford to overcome. The Lady Indians could not cut the lead to single digits until the 1:19 mark, and then Exeter converted six free throws in the waning moments to secure the 59-44 victory.
Edie led Exeter with her 32 points, 14 of which fell from the free throw line. Bowman scored 11 and Stensrud added 8 for the Lady Tigers. Strafford's balanced attack produced three players in double figures.
"We had the maturity to finish," said Exeter Coach Jason Cole minutes after the trophy presentation. "We showed our age last year here when Strafford beat us. Our group as a whole has to be able to handle pressure to succeed."
Southwest drops fifth place game to Jasper
In the fifth place game at Sarcoxie, Southwest's Lady Trojans collided with the Jasper Lady Eagles and lost 69-53. The taller Eagles frustrated Southwest throughout the first half with scores after offensive rebounds and led by as many as 11 points in the second quarter.
Jasper had little trouble attacking and scoring against the Southwest press as well. The classic "40 minutes of hell" pressure defensive style popularized by Nolan Richardson's Razorbacks in the 90s can quickly become "40 minutes of lay-ups" with defensive lapses.
Still, the Lady Trojans hung in the game and mounted a 6-0 run over a three-minute span of the second period, and Jasper called timeout when their lead dwindled to 19-14 with 2:30 on the clock before half-time.
Jasper regained an 8-point lead at 25-17 when Kelly Thomas connected with a high, arching jumper with 1:05 to play. On the following possession, Stacy Hobbs spotted up on the right wing and nailed a three as Thomas shoved her to the floor. The Southwest guard collected the free throw to complete a rare 4-point play and pulled her team within 4 at 21-25.
Holly Poindexter hit a late jumper for Jasper, but Chelsea Sneed and Hobbs each hit a pair of free throws in the final 16 seconds of the half, and Jasper held a slim 27-25 lead at intermission.
The Southwest crowd erupted when Sneed's pass to Kelsey Henry set up her trey and Southwest's first lead of the game after only 14 seconds passed in the third quarter. Jasper immediately reclaimed the lead when Elyse Davis grabbed an offensive board and scored.
Jasper scored six more buckets in the period on offensive rebounds and stickbacks alone, and the lead ballooned to 49-38 for the Lady Eagles at the end of the quarter. Davis and Candice Talbot conducted a clinic on blocking out and rebounding to stake Jasper to the biggest lead of the first three quarters.
The real fireworks came in the fourth quarter but not from the players. With play stopped for an injury timeout, Southwest Coach Kenny Ferguson took game official Don Colbert to task for what he considered an "unprofessional" remark and was promptly teed up twice and ejected. (Colbert is the same official who tossed Jason Horn, the Southwest boys' coach, at a game at Joplin McAuley last season.) Southwest principal Brad Clark took over the reins for the remaining 6:45.
Jasper's lead increased to 21 with Talbot's board and stick at 3:10, and a foul-filled quarter ended with the Lady Eagles winning the fifth place trophy by a final score of 69-53.
First round games
In first round Monday and Tuesday action at Sarcoxie on Monday and Tuesday, Exeter, College Heights, Monett and Strafford all won.
College Heights pulled the only upset of the bracket, pulling off the upset of fourth-seeded Southwest, 59-46. College Heights overpowered the Lady Trojans 33-18 in the second half, led by Rachel Brehm with 27 points. Sneed led Southwest with 14.
The Exeter Lady Tigers, ranked #2 in Class 1 in the newest state polls, overwhelmed the host Lady Bears, 68-28, on the strength of Edie's 33-point performance.
Second round games
In the second round, Exeter easily downed College Heights 60-38. Edie collected 35 points for the Lady Tigers in the win. On the consolation side of the bracket, Southwest defeated Sarcoxie 75-41 behind Sneed's 31 points.