The St. James girls basketball team needed all four quarters when they made the trip to Nixa on Thursday, Jan. 5. The Lady Tigers braved the weather to keep their undefeated streak alive with a nail-biting 44-41 win.
Nixa came out firing in the first quarter, taking control of the game early on. The Lady Eagles spread the ball around throughout the quarter, as five different players chipped in to a 14 point performance. They also managed to slow down the high-powered St. James offense on the other end. Devin Fuhring and Kenzie Guese provided all the scoring for the Lady Tigers in the opening quarter, but only managed a total of eight points.
Nixa was able to build their lead into the double digits in the second quarter. As the quarter went on, Fuhring got hot. The senior scored 12 points in the second quarter alone and cut the Nixa lead down to 22-18 with less than two minutes to play. That's when Nixa's Taylor Arnold found her stroke. Arnold dropped threes on back-to-back possessions and made three in the second quarter, as a part of a 12 point first half. That shooting performance late in the half helped propel Nixa to a 29-22 lead at the half.
St. James chipped away at that lead throughout the third quarter and had their best defensive quarter of the night. The Lady Tigers held Nixa to just five points in the third with their only basket from the field coming in the first two minutes of the half. Furhing still had the hot hand in the third, draining a three as a part of a seven point performance, cutting the lead to 34-31 with a quarter to play.
The Lady Tigers kept pushing in the fourth quarter, finally taking a lead with a Fuhring three with just over five minutes left in the game. That lead would change hands a couple of times before Guese gave St. James a 39-37 lead with 3:39 left that they would never give back. Nixa had the ball to end the game with a chance to tie, but fell short on a long buzzer beater. Fuhring led the Lady Tigers with 29, seven rebounds and two steals. Guese added 13 points of her own with six boards, two steals, two assists and a block. The only other points scored for the Lady Tigers came on a basket by Quinn Paulus in the second quarter.
This was another game where all the attention was on Fuhring and she adjusted well to that pressure, like she has all season long. Head coach Terry Wells is especially proud of how she was able to overcome a slow start to the ballgame.
"She's done a good job as a senior of maturing as a player," said coach Wells. "Early in her career, if she would get off to a rough start, it was probably going to be a rough game all the way through. Last night, she did not have a great start to the game and we had a pretty serious talk about that at the end of the first quarter and she just really responded well. She's done it all year, where she can now instead of closing up shop and going home for the night, she can really respond and find another gear and can turn it on when things might not go her way early, she can still finish strong."
The win keeps the Lady Tigers undefeated and also gives them their third "revenge win" of the season. They fell to Nixa 50-31 last year and came in looking to flip the script to kick off 2017. The two other wins that avenged losses from last season were the season opener against Jackson and the Eugene Championship win over Osage, who beat them in the same championship game by just a point in December 2015.
"We talked about (last year's loss) a lot, because they came to our place last year and basically dominated us. I think it ended up at 20 points and it wasn't even that close," said coach Wells. "We talked a lot about coming out and having a little bit of a chip on our shoulder and being motivated. Unfortunately, we didn't start the game that way. You take a long trip and we just got off to an extremely slow start, but the girls did a good job of making adjustments and responding in the second half."
At lot of those adjustments were about adjusting to the physical style of play that St. James doesn't see very often on their schedule.
"We talked a lot about offensively just being a little more patient and waiting for a great shot," said coach Wells. "They play a physical game in the southwest and the officials officiate the game and let it get physical and I felt like in the first half we wasted some possessions by driving in there and looking for fouls, which might work sometimes, but it wasn't gonna work down there. The girls were more patient in the second half and got a lot more quality possessions."
This game wasn't all positive for the Lady Tigers. Because of the physical nature, they're a bit banged up. Savanna Riccetti was forced to sit out most of the fourth quarter and miss practice on Friday with what they hope is just a knee bruise. Coach Wells expects her to be able to play on Saturday, but the Lady Tigers are licking their wounds a bit.
"I don't know how much good (the game against Nixa) is going to do us (for the game against Warrenton)," said coach Wells. "It was a good, strong, physical game with both teams getting after it, as you can see by the final score with both of us in the low 40's...I'm not sure how much good it's gonna do us for Warrenton, we expect (Riccetti) to play. We went pretty light (on Friday) and hopefully our kids will have enough left in the tank to go out there and try to get our third tournament win of the year. To sweep all three tournaments would be quite an accomplishment."
The Lady Tigers will look to keep up the winning streak as they face off against Warrenton for the rescheduled championship of the Sullivan Tournament on Saturday, Jan. 7.