Oswald, who was introduced to the crowd between games on Thursday night, is the lone senior on the 2008-09 team and received a long and warm ovation from the home crowd.
East Newton, a 44-39 winner over Cassville back in December, poses major match-up problems for Big 8 opponents simply because of Katy Cooper, the Lady Patriots' tall and talented junior post player. Neither team has a particularly deep bench, and the main questions going in were "Who could stay out of foul trouble?" and "Who could hit free throws?"
While Cassville avoided crippling foul trouble early, Cooper went to the pine for almost four minutes in the first half with a pair of early fouls. But the answer to question #2 was: "Nobody" as the fourth quarter exposed in excruciating fashion.
The Cassville Crazies Construction Company was out in full force for the game. Dressed in blinding fluorescent green and orange safety vests with matching head scarves, the enthusiastic group led the student section in cheers and chants and teamed with the cheerleaders to keep the adrenaline flowing for the Ladycats.
Cassville could have used some style points, because getting the ball through the net was a major challenge. Cooper patrolled the lane on defense like one of the Ents from Tolkien's imagination, and swatted shots with little effort. She used her obvious height advantage to toss in the game's first score in the first half minute of play, and East Newton took an early 2-0 lead.
Cooper was guilty of her first foul less than a minute later when she reached over-the-back trying for an offensive rebound. Following a pair of Gail Edie free throws and a solo freebie by Emily Orrell, Cooper scored from the right block with an indefensible move, and the Lady 'Pats led 4-3. But the East Newton center was whistled again with 2:20 on the first quarter clock, and she took a seat on the bench.
With the basket visible in Cooper's absence, Cassville struck for two quick inside baskets. Hannah Elkins sliced through the lane and scored, and then Marti Richmiller rebounded and scored on a stickback of Elkins' lay-up that rimmed out, and Cassville led 7-4 at the break.
The Ladycats extended their run into the second period when Elkins drove the right baseline, created space with a slight fadeaway and scored. Then Orrell popped a 15-foot jumper that was answered immediately by East Newton's Courtney Mann, and the Ladycats led 11-6 with 5:40 remaining before half.
East Newton called timeout to get Cooper back on the floor, but Elkins found the scoring column next to extend the Cassville lead. With 3:40 to play, Lindsey Bragg intercepted a pass, drove the floor, and dished late to Cooper for a lay-up. East Newton's Mann and Cassville's Edie traded late baskets, and the Ladycats reached halftime with a 15-10 lead.
Even leading by 5, Cassville's Chris Shore had to be nervous. East Newton's big center had missed several point-blank opportunities in the lane, and two fouls would not keep her off the floor in the third quarter.
The Cassville Crazies Construction Company members raised their intensity level when the teams hit the floor. What was loud in the first half became a din in the second. While all coaches and players dismiss crowd noise as inconsequential, there were times in the second half when the Crazies did seem to rattle the opponents.
Cooper immediately got reacquainted with the Cassville players, stuffing Elkins on her first attempt of the third quarter. The Lady Patriots sandwiched Elkins' right wing jumper with a pair of baskets in the first minute and a half, and Cassville led 17-14 with 6:33 on the clock.
With the game pace steadily picking up, Cassville's girls sizzled for an 11-0 run to end the quarter. Elkins sank free throws, Richmiller tossed in two jumpers, and Edie chipped in as well to extend the lead. The only negative of the period for Cassville was a late injury to Elkins.
While the crowd held its collective breath, Elkins doubled over in obvious pain, holding her left arm. Cassville took a full time-out, and Elkins remained on the bench. East Newton took advantage of her absence to get Cooper a breather as well. The third quarter passed with Cassville leading 28-14.
Elkins returned for the fourth quarter, and Cassville inbounded the ball at halfcourt. The Ladycats promptly turned it over against only token pressure by East Newton. The Lady Patriots would gear up their full court press for the remainder of the game.
Cooper picked up her third foul after only 50 seconds of the fourth quarter, also East Newton's sixth team foul. With the bonus in effect on all following fouls, Cassville earned three one-and-one opportunities in the next minute and a half. The Ladycats missed the front end on all three chances, and East Newton held on to slim comeback hopes.
Thrice, Cassville led by 16 in the final quarter, the third time coming on a pair of Elkins free throws with 3:54 to play. While the CCCC chanted "Aut-o-mat-ic," Elkins drained the shots for a 34-18 advantage. Time was running out on the Lady Patriots.
But East Newton had the same problems from the charity stripe as their hosts, missing the front ends of two one-and-one situations, and then botching a pair of free throws when Cassville fouled with only 50 seconds left. Orrell finally found the cylinder with her free throws, and Chelcie Sheeley scored for East Newton during the 10-second countdown to produce the final score of 39-27.
Elkins was Cassville's scoring leader with 15 points. Edie contributed 11, and Orrell and Richmiller each scored 6. Katy Cooper managed 8 points for East Newton on a nightmarish shooting night for the Lady Patriots.
"We played with intensity for four quarters, and our kids really followed the defensive game plan," said Cassville Coach Chris Shore after the game.
The Ladycats, now 15-8 on the season and 4-1 in conference play, are gaining momentum as they head toward district play.
"We are in a good spot in district with the third seed," said Coach Shore. "We hope to advance to the semifinal round and get a shot at Republic."
East Newton won the JV contest, 29-17. The Lady Patriots led 5-2 after the first quarter on a field goal and a safety, and the period scores that followed did nothing to deter the football comparisons. Cassville's Danielle Krumwiede led all scorers with 9 points, and Amber Balch scored 4. East Newton's Morgan Biddlecome managed 7 points, aided by Sarah Clark's 6.
Cassville is set to host the Class 4, Distirct 11 tournament next week. The Ladycats open district play on Monday, Feb. 23 with a 7:30 p.m. game against Reeds Spring.