By Jason Hoekema / [email protected]
MOUNTAIN GROVE – Thursday, February 20, 2020, wasn’t the highlight of the Lady Bears’ regular season. It ended with a 70-43 victory for the Lady Eagles, who were hosted on Senior Night by the Lady Bears.
It was raining that evening – threes, of course – and Ava just couldn’t control Liberty’s shooters who hit ten from outside.
Things were better for the ladies come Saturday when they played Willow Springs in the opening round of play in the Class 3 District 4 Tournament, but the Lady Bears were still slow to start against the SCA Conference and District Rival.
The Willow Springs Lady Bears appeared to have taken time to look hard at film from their first game against Ava. The Lady Bears ripped that contest open with an 18-8 first quarter and didn’t look back until the horn sounded the 54-35 victory for Ava.
This time around the Ava Lady Bears were down 8-4 early in the first. After a 7-3 burst Ava caught up and tied Willow Springs at 11 with a quarter-closing bucket from Hannah Evans.
Lexie Gastineau was the unsung hero who cut the Willow Springs run of six off and brought Ava within one point, 8-7, of Willow Springs.
Buckets from Claire Fossett, Eden Little plus two from Evans paired nicely with a charge taken by Olivia Gastineau putting the first mark against Chloe Chatin with the offensive foul.
Aiding the Lady Bears was some conservative defense work, using feet instead of hands and minimizing whistles against Ava to just two in the first quarter.
Tied at 11, the first quarter left the result of the game at anyone’s guess.
The Ava Bears were able to put just one point on the board early in the second, a free throw made by Olivia Gastineau off of a defensive foul drawn from Kenna Lowe.
But that was it for several agonizing minutes as Willow Springs churned forward with two buckets from Liz Sheehan. A stressful, albeit short, stalemate kept Ava on their heels until Evans finally broke the defense and pushed through the lane for a bucket, sparking nine unanswered points from Lady Bears before the break.
Lexie Gastineau came up clutch once again with another shot from the wing, putting the Ava Lady Bears up 17-15 in the last minute of the quarter.
Olivia followed through afterward, feeding off of Lexie and picked up the pass on an offensive rebound – by Lexie – for five points from the twins.
Add a foul drawn from Kenna Lowe plus a successful one-and-one by Olivia and the Gastineau’s put up eight of the Lady Bears’ ten second quarter points to take a healthy, 21-15, lead going into the break.
Shake It Off
The four-point second quarter for Willow Springs set a tone for the remainder of the game where they did not again break into double-digit numbers.
On the other end of the court the Ava Bears showed up and drove the game for 14 points in the third quarter. On defense, the Ava Lady Bears kept Willow Springs at just six points.
Olivia Gastineau opened things up in the second half with a free throw after picking up a steal on the Willow Springs inbound. She missed the shot at the other end but drew the foul from Lowe.
The Ava Lady Bears didn’t let up and continued on a nine-point streak taking the game up 30-19. Evans picked up the inbound and was left unguarded near the corner where she hit a three putting Ava up by seven with 4:26 left in the third.
She later drew a foul going up under the bucket from Sheehan and hit both free throws to extend the Ava Lady Bears’ lead to ten points.
The barrage of three-point shots continued with Olivia Gastineau hitting one from the wing with 1:35 left in the third, putting Ava up by 13 points. It didn’t end there.
Claire Fossett recently injured a finger and has been playing taped up, a testament to the senior’s resolve, and scored a total of ten points in spite of this fact.
Even with a bum hand, she nailed a buzzer-beating three from near the top of the key putting the final nail as the third quarter closed out with Ava ahead, 35-21.
New Fish in the Pond
Last year Hannah Evans was the incoming freshman who made a statement for Ava with 179 points her first year, averaging 7.1 points-per-game.
This year she has nearly doubled her freshman numbers with 352 points scored in the regular season. In her wake, comes freshman Olivia Gastineau.
Her sister, Lexie, can be just as potent on the court. With more varsity time under her belt Olivia put up 250 points in the regular season. In succession the Lady Bears have been lining up and developing shooters since Ashton Bewley’s 1,050 career-points made in 2019.
Then followed Evans, and now Gastineau who led the Lady Bears Saturday with 14 points. She and Evans both hit three from inside and one from the perimeter, but Olivia drew the extra fouls for five points over four trips to the line.
Nevertheless, the Lady Bears topped off the game with a 12-9 fourth quarter with Claire Fossett leading the final charge with five points followed by senior Eden Little with four.
Those numbers may not sound like much, but it was a free throw from Fossett which extended the lead to 12 points, followed by a bucket from Little to open the gap to 14.
As the last bit of time ran off the clock, Olivia Gastineau took her second charge of the game as frustrations led to Willow Springs committing ten fouls in the second half, seven in the fourth quarter.
In those fouls went Liz Sheehan who fouled-out with 1:56 left in regulation on a push against Evans near the mid-court sideline. Evans was given the one-and-one opportunity, but the ball bounced back and into play.
Fossett put in one extra nail into the coffin with a late bucket to take the game and have the last shot on the court as the Lady Bears won, 47-35.
Licking High School was a formidable foe coming into the second round with a 22-6 record, a .786 winning percentage. The Lady Wildcats have averaged nearly 60 points per game, ten more than the Lady Bears, while also allowing fewer points.
The Lady Bears are in a six-game slump against Licking, without a win since 2011 at a Class 3 District 2 Tournament. Ava is 2-7 overall against the Lady Wildcats.
The two stayed neck-and-neck with an 11-9 first quarter at the tournament in Mountain Grove.
Olivia Gastineau came up with an early three along with buckets from Sara Mendel and Claire Fossett who, in addition to Eden Little, each brought in one more point on two trips to the line shooting 50-percent in the first quarter.
The Lady Bears just couldn’t hold on once the Licking offense cracked their code. The Lady Wildcats went-off with a 24-8 second quarter and put Ava on their heels, 35-17, at the half.
Hannah Evans broke in for a bucket, as did Mendel, Gastineau, and Little. The Lady Bears offense wasn’t hitting buckets and the defense had trouble keeping a bead on Licking’s point leader, Karlee Holland, who scored 28 points on February 25.
Holland and Abagail Moncrief (14PTS) put the Lady Wildcats well ahead of Ava by the end of the third quarter leading, 58-21.
Licking just had to hold off the Lady Bears for one more quarter, and they did with a stout defense allowing just eight points. The Wildcats didn’t score in the fourth, instead they kept buckets to three for the Lady Bears; Little, Olivia Gastineau and Celia Fossett scoring one bucket each plus two points from the stripe from Baylan Alexander and Gastineau.
Outgunned from inside 20-11, with field goals and shooting perfectly from the stripe, the Licking Lady Wildcats ended Ava’s season before defeating St. James to win the MSHSAA Class 3 District 4 crown.