One must-win rivalry game is in the books for the Ozark High School girls basketball team.
Another is coming up on Thursday.
The host Lady Tigers topped Christian County rival Nixa 57-44 Monday with accurate shooting and by outrebounding the smaller Lady Eagles.
Junior Hannah Cook said she was extra inspired to send her five teammates out in style during Senior Night, as Haylee Beard, Courtney Clancy, Jackie Fugate, and Brianna and Bridget Justis played their last basketball game at the school.
“Tonight was an important night,” Cook said. “It’s Senior Night. I mean, and it’s Nixa. We had to win.”
Cook finished with 19 points, three steals and three rebounds, as Ozark (17-6, 5-0 Central Ozark Conference Large Division) has now won six straight in the rivalry.
Up next is Thursday’s game at defending Class 4 state champion Republic. The Lady Tigers are 21-0 and have not lost since last season’s third loss to Ozark, a 29-point defeat Jan. 20 in the Queens of the Court Showcase semifinal.
The win also means Ozark should secure the top seed in the Class 5 District 11 tournament, which will be at Branson. Nixa should get the second seed in Saturday morning’s meeting, but will have a tougher road to a possible district final rematch with Ozark, as Nixa will likely meet the host Pirates in the semifinal.
Sophomore guard Toshua Leavitt scored 19 points for Nixa (19-5, 3-2), including 5-for-10 shooting from 3-point range.
She had four of her triples in the first half, keeping the Lady Eagles in the game despite Ozark shooting 11 of 18 (61 percent) from the field before halftime.
The Ozark lead was 40-34 late in the third quarter until Ozark coach Yancey Little called a timeout to set up a final shot with 4.5 seconds to play.
Cook then buried a long 3-pointer. Then, to open the fourth, Clancy knocked down what turned into a four-point play from nearly the same spot in front of the Ozark bench.
“Those are big seven points, wasn’t it?” Little said. “Our girls have been in some big games. We play a tough schedule to prepare ourselves for this type of setting.”
Nixa coach Jim Middleton said the long-range shooting from Ozark, along with his team’s lack of rebounding proved to be the difference. The Lady Eagles were outrebounded 23-14.
“Rebounding and contesting shooters: If we would’ve done a better job of those two things, we would have been in a lot better shape,” Middleton said. “We didn’t get a hand in girls’ face well enough to alter a shot.”
Middleton also said the Lady Eagles will continue to be without standout junior guard Sydney Hammit, who will miss the entire season with a knee injury.
Before Cook’s career at Ozark is over, she should be among the program’s most celebrated players. She’s now 20 points away from 1,000 and should set the school career steals record by the end of the season.
In addition, the all-time school career scoring mark of 1,204 points set by Lesley Eakins in 1983 should be within reach early next year for the Division-I recruit.
With a win Thursday, Ozark would have the opportunity to close out the COC title Feb. 18 at Carthage. A COC championship would be the second straight for Ozark, which had won one previous conference title, in ’83.