Perhaps McDonald County sophomore basketball player Preslea Reece had this entire thing gift-wrapped from the very beginning.
In a time of giving, one day after Christmas, on teammate Courtni Smith’s birthday, and two days after coach LaDonna McClain’s birthday, Reece scored 22 points, including 16 in the second half, to bring the Lady Mustangs from behind to defeat Neosho, 39-32, on Wednesday in the first round of pool play at the 58th annual Neosho Holiday Classic at Neosho Middle School.
Not only did Reece’s big day put the bow on Smith and McClain’s gifts, but it also awarded her team its first victory of the season.
“She really played,” McClain said. “Especially in the second half, I thought she turned it up.”
Reece, who fouled out with 1:24 remaining and the Lady Wildcats still within striking distance, can’t take all of the credit, however. The rest of the Lady Mustangs carried the load once Reece fouled out. Neosho mounted a late threat, closing to within 33-31 with 55 seconds left, but the Lady Mustangs never faltered.
It was the kind of pick-me-up that McClain said her team has been seeking.
“We just need some confidence,” McClain said. “We’ve been in several games we just haven’t been able to finish. The huge thing for us was playing two and some odd minutes without Dani (Pierce) and Preslea on the floor. That was big.”
Corea Lowery made one of two free throw attempts for the Lady Wildcats with 55 ticks left in the game to make it 33-31, McDonald County. Alisha Ballard then made the front end of two foul shots with 47 seconds left before Smith sank both of her tries with 30 seconds to go to extend the lead to 36-31. Ballard would go on to make two more down the stretch to seal the victory.
It was a tale of two halves for the Lady Wildcats. Both teams struggled with turnovers throughout the game, but they were the ones capitalizing on the mistakes in the first half, and held a 20-15 lead at the intermission. Aside from a few short seconds in the second quarter, Neosho held the lead nearly the entire first half.
“Very frustrating,” Neosho coach Lance Robbins said. “We came out and played well in the first quarter. From there we just couldn’t make shots, and I felt like when we couldn’t make shots we didn’t guard as hard.
“We had some silly turnovers throughout the game. All that being said, I thought we had a chance at the end to make some plays. We had a chance right there at the end to make some plays and win the game and we just weren’t able to do it.”
Page 2 of 2 - McClain said that, while it might not have been a pretty win, it was one her team is glad to take.
“It wasn’t pretty,” she said. “But we still did a lot of good things and did the job. It’s hard to come in and win against a home team in a tournament, and so I’m hoping this will maybe head us in a different direction than what we’ve been headed.”
Cendy Garcia followed Reece with five points while Sarah Rickman and Smith both had four, Ballard three and Kali Hodson one.
Matty Liedtke led the Lady Wildcats with 11 points while Chelsey Henry pitched in eight, Brooke Stauffer four, Morgan Rathmann one, Corea Lowery one, Morgan Rogers two, Chelsei Marion one and Emily Harrell two.
The Lady Mustangs take on Bentonville at 4:30 p.m. today while the Lady Wildcats square off with Pierce City at 7:30 p.m.