Yancey Little admitted after Thursday’s game that he roots for Republic High School’s girls basketball team every time it’s not playing his Ozark Lady Tigers.
After all, coach Little and Republic coach Kris Flood, best friends from growing up in Clever, were the best men in each other’s weddings.
So, in Little’s mind, Republic’s season is still perfect.
That won’t be much solace to Republic, however, after Ozark ended an 83-0 start to Republic’s girls basketball season at all levels with a 53-46 victory.
“I’m proud of him and what he’s accomplished here, and I’m kind of envious of him because he does a fantastic job,” Little said.
“It’s always a battle. There were a lot of seniors out there (10 combined for the teams). I don’t know how many times these girls have played each other through junior high school. But luckily it’s the last time.”
The victory ended an 89-game winning streak for Republic girls basketball teams from the varsity level all the way down to seventh grade, and moved Ozark to one win away from a second straight Central Ozark Conference Large Division title.
Hannah Cook scored 25 points and senior Haylee Beard added 17 for Ozark (18-6, 5-0), which can clinch the COC title Monday at Carthage.
“We just wanted to play hard and play relaxed, not to pay attention to anything, and play to win,” said Cook, a junior Division-I recruit who passed the 1,000-career point mark with another impressive performance. “Republic is a good team, and I knew it was going to be good competition.”
Ozark had to do much of its damage with senior post player Jackie Fugate hobbled with foul trouble throughout. That made Cook and Beard’s combined 8-for-13 shooting from 3-point range (62 percent) all that more crucial.
Ozark opened a double-digit lead late in the second quarter fueled by two straight 3s from Beard, a Texas-San Antonio signee.
Then, after Beard and Cook opened the third with 3-pointers for Ozark, Republic senior Alice Heinzler went to work. The All-Ozarks returner, who helped lead Republic to the Class 4 state title last year, scored all 19 of her points in the second half.
Republic (21-1, 5-1) had a 12-0 run in the third, taking a 32-30 lead on a deep Heinzler 3-pointer. However, Beard beat the third-quarter buzzer on a long two-point jump shot, tying the game.
Cook hit two 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the fourth, and Beard hit her fourth triple to put Ozark up 41-37.
Little’s team then held a Republic run off by knocking down 9 of 11 free throws down the stretch.
Republic will play host to Branson on Monday, and at Glendale on Wednesday with hopes of starting another streak for the Class 4 playoffs.
“But streaks are meant to end,” Flood said. “And it came to an end against a good team.”