Jade Sawyer poured in 18 points and the Lady Tigers used smothering defense to pull away from Nixa on the road Thursday, 61-45. It was the 12th win in a row for the Lady Tigers, who improved to 19-2 overall and 4-0 in the Central Ozark Conference.
The first half was mostly a shootout between two guards — Sawyer and Nixa’s Toshua Leavitt, who had scored 51 points against Carthage earlier this week. Leavitt made four three-pointers in the first half to lead all scorers with 16 going into the break. But Sawyer mathced her nearly shot-for-shot, and ended the first half with 13 points of her own.
“Nixa’s always a good conference game, and this year it’s a district game. I believe districts is seeded next week, so we just tried to come out really fast. We knew if we could jump on them, maybe it would throw them off,” Sawyer says.
The Lady Tigers did jump out early, aided by several Nixa turnovers against the trapping pressure defense of Republic. With five minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Lady Tigers had stretched their lead to 13 points, at 28-15. But Nixa kept fighting back, and they closed the gap to eight points at halftime (35-27).
Early in the third quarter, Nixa got even closer, cutting the lead to five. With Republic back on its heels, two key possessions put Republic back in control. Two offensive boards kept the ball alive for the Lady Tigers, and it ended up in the hands of Jordan Kabetske, whose high, arching three-pointer stretched the lead back to eight. After a defensive stop, Sawyer found herself open at the top of the key, drained another trey, and the lead was suddenly 11 points again. From there, the Lady Tigers pulled away, leading 49-36 after three quarter before finishing with a 16-point win.
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Besides offensive rebounds, another key to their second-half success was shutting down Leavitt, who scored only five points after halftime. Jordan Kabetske drew the second half defensive assignment, frustrating Leavitt and even drawing an offensive foul for a push-off at one point.
“I like to play defense,” says Kabetske. “Whenever I see myself getting into someone’s head, it makes me happy because I know they’re frustrated. I’ve been through that, so I’m glad it’s not me.”
“She has that mindset,” Flood says of Kabetske’s defense. “She’s pretty tough mentally. She’s one that’s willing to take that task on. She did a tremendous job.”
Brooke Stanfield finished with 14 points for Republic, including a couple of second-chance buckets that stopped Nixa’s momentum at key moments. Kabetske scored ten. Tori Taylor and Michayla Shanks each scored eight. Micah Mansker scored two and Brylee Argo added one.
The Lady Tigers have now beaten every team in their district except one — that’s Willard, who hosts Republic next Monday. A win Monday night would assure the Lady Tigers of the number one seed when they host the district tournament later this year.