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Lady Eagles post runner-up finish at Pink & White for third time in four years

NIXA'S KENNEDY NASH looks for an open teammate.
NIXA'S KENNEDY NASH looks for an open teammate.

SPRINGFIELD — With her eyes a bit puffy from tears she shed, Lily Mahy related she’s optimistic the disappointment of a fourth runner-up finish for Nixa at the Pink & White Lady Classic will ultimately be worthwhile.

The Lady Eagles’ bid for their first Pink & White Lady Classic title fell short, as they fell 44-41 to Greenwood (Arkansas) in the White Division final Saturday.

“It's not about right now, it's about getting to that final step, District and State,” Mahy said. “If this was a step in the right direction, we're willing to take it.”

Nixa battled the two-time defending Arkansas Class 5A state champions to the wire. The Lady Eagles rallied from a 29-17 second-quarter deficit to give themselves a chance to tie at the final buzzer, but a 3 to try to force overtime was off target.

Even with the sting of the loss, coach Jenny Talbert and her team gained satisfaction from a rally that saw them hold Greenwood to four field goals and just 15 points in the second half. The Lady Bulldogs managed only one field goal in the fourth quarter.

“I am so proud of the girls for their comeback,” Talbert said. “They’re such a resilient, gritty group. I've seen it in practices and seen it in games. They showcased that tonight.”

Nixa was handled rather easily by Greenwood 66-51 in last season’s Pink title tilt. But even while falling behind by 12 this time around, the Lady Eagles were confident they could get back in it.

“I told the girls that we're a team that can come back,” Mahy said. “We have a lot of energy within ourselves and we're very gritty. I knew we were in it the whole time.”

Nixa endured a lull in the second quarter in which Greenwood scored 13 straight points while the Lady Eagles missed eight straight field-goal attempts.

"We let them get comfortable in their zone and didn't attack the gaps very well,” Mahy said. “We had to find gaps in their zone to attack from the top, so we weren’t having to shoot all outside shots and not getting nothing for our bigs inside.”

A Mahy 3 from 25 feet out heading into halftime made it 29-20 and helped start Nixa’s comeback.

“That gave us life,” Talbert said.

The Lady Eagles started the second half by going 1-of-5 from the field and committing four turnovers over the first five minutes of the third. Yet, they were still with seven points of the lead, 31-24, thanks to their defense.

“We started off the second half by getting four straight defensive stops,” Talbert said. “We didn't necessarily score. But our defense locked in and that carried over for the whole second half.”

Nixa center Laila Grant was able to slow down her counterpart, Greenwood post Anna Trusty. Trusty scored 10 points in the first half, but was limited to four free throws in the second half.

Grant and Trusty were already acquainted with each other. They’re on separate AAU teams, but both part of Shock Hoops’ Select 40 Circuit outfit out of Arkansas that includes preps from Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

“We have a good connection,” Grant said of her and Trusty. “I'd been looking forward to this game since last year.”

“(Grant’s) defense was great in the second half,” Talbert said. “She stayed on (Trusty) the whole second half. I feel she altered a bunch of (Trusty’s) shots without even blocking them by being long and lanky. I was proud of her fight.”

Grant also was a factor at the offensive end. She scored six of her eight points in the fourth quarter.

“They're very, very physical and Anna is strong and aggressive,” Grant said. “I’ve been working hard on going up strong.”

Two seemingly blatant blown calls by the refs went against Nixa and loomed large to thwart its chance at the upset. 

With :20 remaining in the third quarter, Mahy chased down an errant pass during a Nixa possession when she was bumped and knocked off balance and across the mid-court line by a Greenwood player.  Alas, Mahy was called for traveling. That allowed the Lady Bulldogs to make a 3 to close out the quarter.

Later, Greenwood was trying to work the clock while leading 42-41. But a Lady Bulldogs ball-handler briefly lost control of her dribble and it appeared Nixa’s Addy Ruffin stole the ball with :18 remaining. It also appeared she was subsequently fouled by the Greenwood player (see the accompanying photo gallery). There was a whistle. However, it was Ruffin called for the foul, allowing the Lady Bulldogs to go on to make two free throws for their final margin of victory.

Great game, but a poor showing by the refs.

The Lady Eagles got the ball to Mahy for a 3 from a corner in the final seconds. But her shot was hurried and under pressure by Greenwood defenders.

“I still like my chances with the ball in her hands on the 3-point line,” Talbert said. “She’s such a great shooter.”

Mahy finished with four treys and 14 points. Greenwood held her to just one 3 over the second half.

“I'd say (their defense) got a little bit tighter on me, but nothing I can't handle,” Mahy said. “I’d say it got a little tougher because they realized I was a little hot. But my teammates started hitting and that opened me right back up.”

“It was tough for her to get a shot,” Talbert said. “I think they closed on her a little deeper.”

Neither team missed a free throw. Greenwood was 7-of-7 from the foul line and Nixa 2-for-2.

Taylor Wood added nine points for the Lady Eagles. Greenwood held her scoreless in the fourth quarter.

Nixa was 16-of-37 from the field and 6-of-17 shooting 3s.

The Lady Eagles finished with 15 turnovers, but gave the ball away just once during the fourth quarter.

Nixa has never won the Pink & White since it merged with the KTXR Lady Classic in 2012. In addition to being runner-up the last two seasons, the Lady Eagles were second in 2020 and 2013 and also were second at the KTXR Lady Classic in 2008. 

Nixa won Pink & White Tournament titles in 1992, 1997 and 2002.

Greenwood isn't expected to be back for a chance at a three-peat. Springfield Public Schools AD and Pink &  White director Josh Scott said the plan is for the Lady Classic next season to feature similar brackets as the Blue & Gold Tournament made up of 32 SWMO teams.