Lady Wildcats look for late-season push

Cassville 10-12 with 4 games before districts


A back-and-forth season when it comes to results, the Cassville girls basketball team is using its last four regular-season contests to prep for a Class 4, District 12 tournament run from the middle of the pack.

At 10-12, Cassville strung together a trio of wins over East Newton, Southwest and Springfield Central in late January, and the team is in the midst of a swing against some of its toughest opponents of the season.

The Lady Wildcats fell to Big 8 for Nevada on Friday, 54-32, and on Monday, conference and district rival Monett held on late to pull away over Cassville, 51-44.

“We started the season 1-5, and in our first game, we only had two returning starters,” said Clayton Bagby, Cassville girls basketball coach. “[Junior] Kyler [Hayward] was injured with only a couple minutes to go in that game, so we’ve been shuffling our lineup since the beginning of the year. Audrey Kennedy got pushed into that starting spot, though I think that would have happened anyway because she’s been playing so well.”

A freshman, Kennedy played guard most of the season with only one other senior on the floor, returner Madison Halterman. Now, with Hayward back from injury, Cassville uses a 7-player rotation with Hayward, Halterman, Kennedy, sophomore Aubrey Stoufer, junior Elly Ramaeker, junior Hailey Goutney and freshman Avery Stokes.

The group set their sights on cross-county rival Monett on Monday for the third time this season, leading the Basketbrawl at halftime but seeing the win slip through the cracks late.

Cassville led 8-5 early after a pair of three-pointers, and throughout. the first half, the Lady Wildcats’ defense was keyed in on steals and blocks. After a short shooting slump, a 3-pointer from Kennedy hit, then Halterman added 4 more, one shot set up by a Hayward steal. Stoufer then hit a 3-pointer, and Stokes made a shot to tie it at 20. On the next possession, a defensive miscue by Monett allowed Hayward to hit an open jumper and take a 22-20 lead into the break.

The lead changed three times in the third, and a 5-0 Monett run proved to be a lead Cassville could not catch. The Lady Wildcats brought it to 40-39, but forced to foul late, Monett was able to make free throws and close the game out.

Halterman led Cassville with 19 points, including three triples. Stoufer also had a trio of 3-pointers and score 13 total.

The contest mirrored the Crane tournament loss at the start of the season, where Cassville was only 2 points behind with 40 seconds left but lost by 8. In Marionville’s tournament, the Lady Wildcats fell by 6 points.

Bagby said as a young team, experience on the floor is what will help in end-game situations, and it has this season.

“We are getting better because of experience, and in many of the games we lost, we were right with our opponents at the end,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of one-possession games late. By Christmas and the Southwest tournament, you could rally see us start to improve and put that together.

“Year over year, that will help us, especially with freshmen coming in and playing significant time. Madison is the only girl on the floor most of the season who had end of game experience. Now, after Christmas, Lamar was a close game we won late, and Central, too. That end-of-game experience is important.”

Bagby said with a few games left before it’s winor- go-home, Cassville is focused on its schemes and awareness on the floor.

“We need to be checked in,” he said. “Early on, we missed assignments, and other teams made us pay. With Kyler back and us getting back to our normal positions more, some confidence that comes from that will help.

“Audrey and Avery have just gotten better and getter, and more confident. Avery’s role has increased a lot in the last few weeks.”

Conference- wise, Bagby said McDonald County is the favorite to win after defeating Nevada by 30 points earlier in the season.

In the district, Aurora, at 19-2, is the presumed No. 1 seed, with Seneca and East Newton likely to be seeds 5 and 6, and Cassville, Monett and Mt. Vernon battling it out for 2-4. The Lady Wildcats have four total losses this season between the schools.

A taste of the postseason will come on Monday, when Cassville travels to Aurora in regular-season action. The district tournament begins on Feb. 26.

“I definitely feel from where we were at the beginning of the year we have improved,” he said. “If our record will reflect that at the end of the season, we’ll see. We don’t base improvement solely on our record, but we are only two down from .500, and we have a Class 5 school and a Class 6 school. It will not be easy.”

Cassville hosts Hillcrest (11-9-1) on Thursday, then heads to Aurora Monday. The last two regular-season games are at home against Hollister (2-18) on Feb. 15 and away at Neosho (5-11) on Feb. 19.