The Willard High School girls’ basketball team had scoreless droughts of more than five minutes apiece to open the first and fourth quarters in Monday’s Central Ozark Conference Large Division opener.
The Lady Tigers were able to overcome the first one with a wake-up call by coach Mike Percival.
But the second one was too late and at too important of a time against Branson in a 50-40 loss to the Lady Pirates.
Branson (10-5) held Willard to the fourth-quarter drought with its own best player on the bench with foul trouble.
Then, when senior Moriah Dapprich returned with 3:22 remaining, she helped put the finishing touches on the Lady Tigers with seven points down the stretch, for a game-high 15.
But it was the time before Dapprich returned, as Branson turned a one-point edge into a seven-point lead, that was the biggest key.
“That was the biggest thing,” Branson coach Kip Bough said. “Making that run allowed us to get a couple more minutes on the bench. Then when she came in, a close game turned into a 10-point one.”
With Dapprich on the bench, the Lady Pirates shifted roles a little. Junior Hadley Blake, normally the team’s ace defender, stepped up the scoring, notching 10 points.
“I knew that Moriah was out so somebody would have to step up,” Blake said. “I was worried, too. I had four fouls and didn’t want to foul out myself.”
Willard (5-7) was able to overcome a 9-0 deficit early, as Percival sent his starting five to the bench just 2 minutes into the game.
The second unit did not allow a basket, and when the starters returned 3 minutes later, Willard closed the first half with a 26-16 margin, taking a 26-25 lead into halftime.
“We had to get their attention and get them focused,” Percival said. “We’ve been having slow starts and we have to find some way to get them going.
“I thought we had some opportunities for some easy rebounds and putbacks (throughout), but we just didn’t focus, didn’t put the ball on the backboard where it needed to be put. And we got a little lazy with some passes. Just little things.”
But after a third quarter with five lead changes, Branson took control with a 10-0 run to open the fourth.
Bough said he was encouraged his team was up by one after poor play and foul trouble to key players through three quarters.
“I told them to remain positive,” he said. “I told them that we’ve played this poorly, and we’re in foul trouble, and we’re still up one (heading into the fourth).”
Added Blake: “We went through kind of a defensive lull (in the third quarter). But at the end we started to talk and got some intensity to us. And that really fueled our offense.”
Amber Percival scored 12 points to lead Willard, which plays host to Lebanon on Friday.
Branson moves on to the Bolivar Tournament next week. The Lady Pirates are seeded second behind Ash Grove, and open Monday with Buffalo.