After a rather easy first half, the Ozark Lady Tigers might have put it in cruise control a little bit early Friday afternoon at the O’Reilly Family Event Center at Drury University.
But a pair of late 3-pointers by Courtney Clancy helped bail out top-seeded Ozark, leading to a 53-47, hard-fought win over No. 5 Ash Grove in the Pink Division semifinals of the Pink and White Lady Classic.
“It’s like I told them at halftime,” Ozark coach Yancey Little said, “(Ash Grove) is a good ballclub and they’ve (played) a lot of games together, a lot of big games together. If you keep them around, it’s going to be an interesting ballgame.”
Little’s comments proved prophetic as the Lady Pirates did indeed make it very interesting.
Hannah Cook was scorching hot for the Lady Tigers in the first quarter, scoring 12 points as Ozark built a 17-8 and pushed that to 27-15 by halftime.
But strange events began happening in the second half that sparked an Ash Grove rally. First Ozark went miserably cold offensively in the second half, missing numerous easy shots. Secondly — and perhaps most inexplicably — Ash Grove became more aggressive when its star post player Lakin Simmerman left with an injury in the second half and did not return.
Simmerman has missed some games of late with a leg injury and Ash Grove coach Brent Milleson said her injury was likely that same issue and he feared her recovery “would not be quick.”
“I was very proud of our effort and we have shown to be pretty resilient over the three days,” Ash Grove Brent Milleson said. “She’s obviously one of our very best players and has been for the past two-and-a-half years.
“In the wake of that, after it happened, our kids really got up on their toes and then we started to attack and so I was proud of them for that.”
Ozark still led by 10 after three quarters, but that’s when the Lady Pirates made their move. A deep 3-pointer by Halee Cashio, followed by another trey from Madi Johnson cut the Lady Tigers’ lead to 39-37 with 3:20 to play.
A three-point play by Erin Weinreiss gave Ash Grove its first lead at 40-39 and a bucket by Abby Arico made it 42-39. But the Lady Tigers — veterans of big games and atmospheres themselves, responded.
A putback by Haylee Beard tied it and a 3-pointer by Clancy gave Ozark the lead back at 45-42 with 1:48 remaining. Cashio answered with a 3 of her own, but Clancy — unfazed by Ozark’s attempt to run some clock — drilled her fourth 3-pointer with 54 seconds left on the clock.
“I was just feeling it and I felt like I wanted to step up and kind of be a leader,” Clancy said. “I think (Ash Grove) was grittier than we were and they didn’t really miss a shot in the second half. I think we’ll put this one behind us and be ready to go tomorrow.”
Cook finished with 22 points and Clancy added 12 to lead Ozark (8-2), which plays Little Rock (Ark.) Hall at 6:30 for the championship today. The Lady Warriors feature Rutgers signee Tyler Scaife and Missouri State signee Katelyn Webber.
Cash and Jamie Mauss scored 12 each for Ash Grove, which plays Miller Career Academy at 3:30 for third place.