"We played really hard and gave our best effort," said Cassville Coach Chris Shore following the game.
Indeed, Cassville's girls were so close to pulling a monumental upset, but miscues, especially on inbounds plays in the second half, cost the Ladycats precious opportunities.
No one would have blamed Republic for a loss either. The Lady Tigers, once expected to go deep into the state play-offs, are now struggling through, a game at a time, after losing both starting guards to season-ending knee injuries.
Republic opened the game with a 5-0 run, pushing the game at a pace that was not to Cassville's liking. Hannah Elkins finally scored at the 6:45 mark of the first quarter when the Ladycats patiently attacked Republic's press. Ariel Oswald followed that with a soft baseline jumper, and Emily Orrell fed Gail Edie for a bucket that brought Cassville within a point at 6-7.
Republic's Hannah Daniel canned two free throws, and then Cassville finished the quarter strong. Orrell banked in a shot from the right wing, and Elkins dialed up a trey for an 11-9 Cassville lead at the break.
The second quarter opened with a scoring frenzy. Republic took a brief lead at 12-11 on Daniel's lay-up, but Elkins tied it immediately with a rebound and stick. Kyra Ramsey hit a three for Republic and a 16-13 Lady Tigers lead at 5:32. Cassville unleashed a 7-0 run on a deuce and a trey by Elkins and another baseline pop by Oswald.
Republic asked for a timeout with Cassville leading by 20-16.
While Republic struggled to score with their halfcourt offense, their withering press confounded Cassville and led to a number of easy baskets. In the latter stages of the second quarter, Cassville was struggling just to inbound the ball against the suffocating pressure applied by Republic. The Lady Tigers outscored the Lady Wildcats 9-2 to end the half, and Republic held a 25-22 lead.
It was an outstanding first half for Cassville, but the Ladycats did not look comfortable handling the ball against the constant pressure. To win, they needed to solve the press and find a way to put the ball in play more efficiently.
Shore's halftime adjustments were effective. While inbounds plays were still an adventure, Cassville successfully put the ball in play on three consecutive possessions. Elkins went on a scoring spree, recording three baskets to regain the lead for the Ladycats, 29-27, with 4:07 on the clock.
Republic took a 31-29 lead on an Alexis Edwards' rebound and putback, but Marti Richmiller tied it at 31 for Cassville just moments later. With Cassville's girls visibly tiring, Republic's Ramsey found empty space and connected with a left wing jumper for a 33-31 lead.
Cassville took a full timeout at 2:27 to get a breather.
Republic fell back into a zone and abandoned the customary press for the rest of the third, as the Lady Tigers suffered from fatigue also. The greenhouse-level heat in the gym didn't help either team, and the spectators fanning themselves with programs looked like sinners at a July tent revival.
In the last 58 seconds of the quarter, Orrell chucked in a long trey, and Republic managed three baskets, the last a rebound and reverse lay-up by Edwards as the clock expired. The Lady Tigers led 39-34.
With both teams wilting from heat and exhaustion, the pace slowed to a crawl in the fourth period. Two minutes passed without a score and finally Republic's Jamie Holmes stole a pass at halfcourt and drove for a lay-up to extend the lead to 41-34.
Following a Cassville timeout, Republic went to their four-corner delay game, but Oswald's steal resulted in a melee at the other end and Oswald regained the ball and scored to cut the lead to 41-36 with 4:23 to play.
The Ladycats crawled within 4 points on Richmiller's basket off a long inbounds pass just inside the four-minute mark, but that was as close as Cassville could get. Republic hit 8 of 12 free throws down the stretch to hang on for the 51-46 victory.
Edwards, Republic's big center, caught fire late in the game and wound up with 17 points. Elkins led all scorers with 21 points for Cassville, assisted by Orrell with 10 and Oswald with 6.
The Ladycats ended their season with a 16-11 record.
Republic upsets Aurora
in district finals
Playing nearly flawless basketball in the second half, the Republic Lady Tigers survived the relentless pressure of Jamie Nash and the Aurora Lady Houn' Dawgs to capture the Class 4, District 11 Girls Championship.
Republic trailed 15-8, 25-19 and 39-36 after the quarter breaks but came alive in the fourth to steal the game, 59-57.
Aurora scored the initial four points of the last period to stretch their lead to 43-36 with 7:31 to play, but Republic stormed back and took its first lead of the game, 45-44, when Payton Rayl drained a trey at the 5:10 mark.
Four lead changes and a tie later, Republic turned the game into a free throw contest for the final 2:52. In that stretch, Aurora shot five for nine from the charity stripe and scored on field goal. The Lady Tigers shot only three for seven from the line in that same time warp but also collected a pair of baskets by Hannah Daniel.
Republic's delay game chewed up 52 seconds of clock in the last 1:24, and Aurora could not convert on a desperate miss-and-hope free throw attempt in the final 1.1 seconds, and Republic earned the championship plaque.