It didn’t surprise Ozark coach David Brewer who had the one and only fourth-quarter offensive rebound for Kickapoo that ultimately stymied the Lady Tigers’ upset bid Thursday.
Indya Green’s putback with :30 left proved to be the game-winner, as the Lady Chiefs handed Ozark a 62-59 defeat in a classic Class 5 District 11 championship game.
“They took a bad shot, but like usual Green was on the back side for a putback,” Brewer said. “It’s always her. I think she is a fantastic player. She has made a living off of her teammates shooting the ball and she goes and gets it. With our size, we try to get her blocked out. But when she’s as determined to get the ball as she is and is as big as she is, it’s very difficult to keep her from getting it. Her ability to read the shot and where it’s coming off the rim is extraordinary.”
Brewer also wasn’t surprised an offensive rebound decided the contest. Kickapoo’s offensive boards total dictated the game from start to finish.
Brewer’s assistants charted Kickapoo’s rebounding and had the Lady Chiefs getting to three offensive rebounds in the first quarter, none in the second quarter, seven in the third quarter and one in the fourth quarter.
Buoyed by its second chances, Kickapoo outscored Ozark by a combined 34-23 in the first and third quarters.
“That was the whole key to the game,” Brewer said. “The point of the game in which we kept them from offensive rebounds, we were leading. Once we didn’t do that, they were able to surge ahead. We’re so little and they’re so big that that’s a hard thing to do consistently
“I told the girls that if someone walked in during the National Anthem and watched them line up across from us, it would have looked like a mismatch. The first time we played them it was a mismatch ( a 76-52 Kickapoo win).
“What I want the girls to take from this game is they grinded this thing to death to stay in it and had a good opportunity to win. I told them I couldn’t be any more proud of them had we won. I’d be happier. But the way they competed I couldn’t be more proud."
Ozark completed an epic comeback that had its fans standing for the dramatic finish. The Lady Tigers trailed 53-41 with 2:50 remaining. By the 1:10 mark, they already had completed a 16-4 run to tie the score at 57-all on an Olivia Hanks layup.
With :37 remaining, Anna Hitt hit a jumper to put Ozark on top 59-58. Hitt scored eight of her 18 points in the final 2:50.
“We really wanted to exploit the high post and get some dump-downs, but they started digging on our dump-downs,” Brewer said. “They left Anna alone. She had a couple tear drops from five feet out and a big 3 from the corner.
“Hopefully, she can add a consistent 3-point shot in the future, and I think she can, because she has the makings of being a really good player.”
After Green’s putback, Ozark was guilty of a turnover after an in-bounds pass under its own bucket. That halted a steak in which the Lady Tigers scored on a remarkable eight straight possessions.
Kickapoo’s Leah Fredrick made two free throws with :08 to make it 62-59. The Lady Chiefs were 8-of-11 on their free throws over the final 5:29.
Ozark’s Madi Braden 3 from the wing at the buzzer bounced off the rim.
“The trajectory was good,” Brewer said. “I thought it had a good chance to go in.”
In addition to Hitt's heroics, Ozark’s comeback was triggered by its full-court pressure. The Lady Tigers began implementing their press at the 6:01 mark of the fourth quarter.
“We really wanted to use the press earlier. But Madi picked up a couple fouls in the first quarter and Anna picked up two, too,” Brewer said. “I’ve got to have them on the floor. So, we really didn’t use our press in the first half, like we thought we could. We held off on it.
“I had told the coaches if the game stayed at 6-8 points with about 6:00 left, we’re going to go (with the press) and either get killed or come back. Our kids were gassed at that point, but they worked really hard to get us back in it.”
In addition to Hitt’s 18 points, the Lady Tigers (19-7) received 14 from Hanks, nine apiece from Mayes and Annie Scheer and seven from Braden.
Green scored 16 points and Chloe Merced 18 to lead Kickapoo (22-6).
OZARK (59) — Mayes 3 3-4 9, Hitt 5 7-10 18, Hanks 5 1-3 14, Braden 2 2-2 7, Scheer 3 0-0 9, Boggs 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 13-19 59.
KICKAPOO (62) — Barrett 2 0-0 4, Merced 5 8-11 18, Fontleroy 3 5-7 12, Fredrick 1 2-2 4, Senn 1 0-0 2, Conway 2 2-2 6, Green 8 0-0 16. Totals 22 17-22 62.
Ozark 13 15 10 21 - 59
Kickapoo 18 8 16 20 - 62
3-point goals — Scheer 3, Hanks 3, Hitt, Braden, Fontleroy.