For the first time since 2008, the Neosho Lady Wildcats are Neosho Holiday Classic champions after defeating Springdale (Ark.) 49-33 in the championship game of the Black Division on Saturday at Neosho High School.
After a slow start that saw them net just six points in the first quarter, the Lady Wildcats exploded with 15, 12 and 16 over the next three quarters as they began to pull away from the Lady Bulldogs.
The game began to turn in Neosho’s favor at the midway point of the second quarter. After absorbing an 8-2 Springdale run, the Lady Wildcats countered with an 8-0 burst and closed the second on a 12-2 run to take a 21-15 lead at the half. They would double up on Springdale in the third quarter with 12 points to extend the lead to 33-21 and never looked back.
As was their theme the entire tournament, the win was the product of a team effort by the Lady Wildcats. Collectively, they remained remarkably composed when Springdale turned up the pressure, especially late, and continued to stretch the lead in the second half.
After averaging more than 20 points per game in each of the first two games of the tournament, Chelsey Henry, who was later named girls tournament MVP, exploded for 17 of her game-high 19 points in the second half, including 12 in the fourth quarter alone. Brooke Stauffer and Morgan Rogers both followed with 11 points each, with six of Stauffer’s coming in the second quarter.
The Lady Bulldogs were led by Desiree Mack with 16 points.
“They’re a very good basketball team and they’re very well coached,” Neosho coach Lance Robbins said. “I knew coming in they were going to play hard, be physical. Early they made a little run on us, we turned the ball over two or three times in a row and they kind got a lead. I think we called a timeout and we settled down after that, handled the pressure pretty well.
“Kids stepped up and made plays. It was a great team effort all the way around. The last three days we’ve played great as a team.”
Following their 3-0 run this weekend, the Lady Wildcats now stand at 7-3 overall. Idle until Jan. 6 when they host Springfield Central at 5 p.m., they’ll transition into the new year with momentum at their backs.
“I told the girls in the locker room that I was excited for them and excited for our program from where we’ve come in the last few years,” Robbins said. “A couple years ago we’re not even in that ballgame, playing in that game. Our goal is to be playing for a district championship at the end of the year, and in order to be in a situation like that, it’s good to play in games like that where you have a championship environment.
Page 2 of 2 - “For us to come out and play the way we did against good teams like that, I think it speaks volumes about how hard they’ve worked in the gym and in the offseason to make ourselves better.”