WILLOW SPRINGS – The Lady Bears jumped their biggest South Central Association hurdle with their 54-36 leap over the Salem Lady Tigers. Unfortunately, Old Man Winter shuffled the conference schedule with some heavy snow and rough roads.
With the snow-in, Ava was forced to move Willow Springs to the end of their regular season schedule leaving a bit of uncertainty in whether they would wear or share the SCA crown.
Last Wednesday, the Ava Lady Bears toppled the Willow Springs Lady Bears 53-39 to earn the right to wear the SCA crown alone for their second consecutive year.
“Really proud of the girls for staying focused and not getting rattled,” said Coach Nathan Houk. “We had a couple of mistakes down the stretch, but it is always tough going to play on the road in the SCA. Anytime you go anywhere; Willow Springs, Thayer, or Salem… if you win on the road, it’s a good win. Proud of the girls for finishing the conference off the way they did.”
Things didn’t go Ava’s way right from the tip-off, though. The Ava Lady Bears had dealt with two turnovers before finally getting on the board after two scoreless minutes had passed. The initial bucket came on a steal and bucket on the other end by Celia Fossett.
Sara Mendel was heavily covered and breaking in through the Willow Springs defense was a challenge, even for Lexie Gastineau.
Getting Willow Springs on defense was important, evident when Emma Smith pulled a ball loose allowing Fossett to score a second basket and draw a foul in the process. Unfortunately, she didn’t make the three-point-play.
Free throw shooting was not on par for the Ava Lady Bears in Wednesday’s competition. Hitting 48-percent on 25 attempts left 13 potential points on the court. This was the seventh game of the season where Ava shot below .500.
In comparison, the Ava Lady Bears have shot a .623 through the season with ten games where free throw shooting met or exceeded 70-percent.
Nevertheless, Ava was on their way to a win if they built on top of the 11-6 first quarter led by Sara Mendel and Fossett scoring nine combined points.
Ava opened the second with an 8-3 run over Willow Springs for the ten-point 19-9 lead. Lexie Gastineau hit her 42nd triple of the season, tying her at sixth with Jordan Wendler’s 1999-2000 record.
The hit from outside the arc kept Ava ahead, 22-13, with Willow Springs trying to catch up with a three-point-play by Chloe Jones at the end of the half.
Out of the gate in the second half the Ava Lady Bears extended their lead to 15 points with a 14-8 third quarter despite a couple charge calls against Ava.
Fossett and Mendel got things going with scoring creating a pair of runs over Willow Springs to start off the third quarter.
The two scored a combined total of ten before Gastineau set up Akers with a pass inside to hold a double-digit lead at the 4:47 mark.
Fouls started creeping up on the Lady Bears who caught the whistle seven times in the third, including two charge calls.
The bonus was issued to Willow Springs late in the third, but Ava kept things quiet with just two fouls in the fourth.
On the other end of the court Willow Springs had the whistle coming against them in the final quarter with eight fouls, five on shots from Ava, called against them.
The first came against McKylie Cox, who fouled Gastineau just 48 seconds into the final quarter.
Gastineau made her first shot, extending Ava’s lead to 13, and would make three more trips throughout the fourth quarter for a total of six points at the stripe.
Akers sunk two of the Lady Bears’ three buckets with feeds from Fossett. Mendel hit Ava’s third bucket, capping her evening at 18 points.
Willow Springs finally got a quarter to go their way, winning the fourth 15-14. The small victory wasn’t nearly enough for a comeback even though they hit five field goals in the closing minutes of the game.
With the 53-39 win to tie up the loose end caused by winter weather; the Ava Lady Bears now wear the SCA crown outright for their second-consecutive season.
“We very likely could see (Willow Springs) again,” said Houk. “This was a good learning experience. We got a taste of what they’re going to do, but they still have a few tricks up their sleeve. We’ve got some up ours, too. We are looking forward to it and going to be ready to play.”
The Lady Bears shift their focus to the Class 4, District 11 tournament to be held in Mountain Grove. Ava has the first-round bye with their final season record of 22-4, nine wins ahead of two seed Logan-Rogersville.
This game will take place on March 2, at 6 P.M. with the Lady Bears facing the winner between (4) Willow Springs and (5) Buffalo.
Logan-Rogersville also has the first-round bye, and will have the winner between (3) Mountain Grove and (6) Hollister at 7:30 P.M.
“We are just going to try and get better,” said Houk. “We’ll come watch (Buffalo and Willow Springs) play Tuesday and figure out who we are going to prepare for and focus on that.”