Now that his team is at full strength, Ash Grove coach Brent Milleson can freely admit that a spate of midseason injuries may have worked in his team’s favor.
Because, short-handed at times during the Mid-Lakes Conference schedule, his players were tested in uncomfortable situations.
The payoff came Wednesday as a variety of Lady Pirates made plays in a 67-56 Class 2 sectional victory against Fair Grove at Baptist Bible College.
“It made us a deeper team, and it probably helped us define roles,” Milleson said. “In a way, it could’ve been a blessing in disguise, but Lord knows we don’t want to go through that again.”
Ash Grove (24-6) plays St. James at 7:45 p.m. Saturday in state quarterfinal game at Drury’s O’Reilly Family Event Center.
The injuries may have cost Ash Grove a chance at a conference title, as standout center Lakin Simmerman missed time, including a Dec. 20 loss to Fair Grove (21-9).
In the rematch Wednesday, the junior center notched a game-high 18 points, and also made life difficult for Fair Grove center Morgan Kensinger.
“I just kind of learned some of her tendencies and really learned her game just from watching them (while I was injured),” Simmerman said. “That helped a lot.”
Added Milleson: “Having her back just switches matchups. And it switches matchups up for them as much as it does us.”
Ash Grove closed the gap on a five-point deficit after one to force a back-and-forth second quarter which featured seven lead changes.
Fair Grove then took a 31-30 lead early in the third quarter, but soon Ash Grove junior Halee Cashio keyed a 12-1 run, scoring all 10 of her points in the flurry.
During the rally, there was a five-minute stoppage of play where the referees tried to clear up Ash Grove’s foul situation.
It was determined that Simmerman had three fouls instead of four, and Milleson kept the junior post in the game.
“The stoppage of play didn’t help us,” Fair Grove coach Jenny Talbert said. “You sit for five minutes, and that’s no fun for anybody. After that, they responded well, but it took us a while to get going.”
Fair Grove shrunk the lead to three points twice in the fourth, but the Lady Pirates were balanced and composed down the stretch.