The College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcats returned to Keeter Gymnasium Wednesday afternoon for their first home game of 2022 and used a solid team effort to defeat Champion Christian College, 80-72. Jordan Wersinger and Kayley Frank paced the offense and Michelle Gabani pulled down 10 rebounds and dished out five assists in the win.
The Lady Cats jumped out in front early with a Kyra Hardesty three. The Tigers quickly responded, and the race was on. The Lady Cat defense turned up the intensity to produce an 11-2 run and a 14-4 lead. Baskets by Annie Noah, Kayley Frank, and Kyra Hardesty fueled the run and it looked as though the Lady Cats might pull away. A Jurnee Hicks three however, cut the Lady Cat lead to seven. Feeling the pressure of a comeback, Jordan Wersinger responded with a trio of baskets and Kyra Hardesty tacked on a pair of free throws to give the Lady Cats back some breathing room and a 22-10 advantage. As the final minute of the quarter ticked away, the Lady Cats were unable to score and the Tigers capitalized, cutting the gap to 22-14 as time expired.
Jurnee Hicks started the second quarter scoring for the Tigers and cut into the Lady Cat lead even further. A Justys Irish-Holmes three made things interesting and the Lady Cats needed an answer. With 8:18 remaining in the half, Kyra Hardesty responded with a basket and Kayley Frank followed with a two. The lead was back up to eight, 27-19, but the Tigers would not go away. The Lady Cat offense could not manage to get shots to fall and the Tigers began to chip away at the lead. Baskets by Imani Honey and Destiny Gonzalez cut the Lady Cat lead to 33-31 with just over four minutes to play in the second quarter. Frank and Noah scored on back to back possessions to expand the Lady Cat lead and the defense did the rest. Holding the Tigers scoreless the rest of the quarter, free throws by Wersinger and Frank sent the Lady Cats to the locker room holding a 41-31 advantage.
The Tigers were determined to make up ground in the second half and four unanswered points did exactly that. Leading 41-35, Annie Noah drained a mid-range jumper to break through for the Lady Cats. Wersinger connected on the next possession and it was time for the defense to take over again. Neither team could find the bottom of the net over the next couple of minutes, until Jordan Wersinger drained a pair of free throws with 5:23 left to play in the third. Noah, Wersinger, and Frank kept the Lady Cat offense rolling and 18-0 run put the Lady Cats up 61-37, with 2:35 remaining. While it looked like the Lady Cats had the game well in hand, the Tigers had different ideas. Three straight CCC baskets cut into the Lady Cat lead and brought the Tigers back to life. A Wersinger basket bumped the lead to 20, 63-43 but a Justys Irish-Holmes three as time expired cut the gap to 17 and gave the Tigers some momentum.
The scrapping began in the fourth quarter as the Tigers were determined to get back into contention. The teams traded baskets early in the final frame before the defense took over again. Both teams struggled to score until a Tiger basket by Destiny Gonzalez cut the Lady Cat lead to 66-50. The Tigers turned up their defensive pressure and slowly began to chip away at the lead. An 11-2 Tiger run cut the Lady Cat lead to single digits and Coach Becky Mullis called a timeout for her team to regroup. Kayley Frank stepped up, right on cue, and completed a traditional three-point play out of the huddle. A three and a two for five unanswered Tiger points made things interesting again as the lead was cut to seven, 75-68. Free throws became a factor with less than 30 seconds remaining and the Tigers were determined to fight to the end. Kayley Frank drilled a shot from the charity stripe and Kyra Hardesty connected on four straight free throws to offset a Tiger three. The late free throws were enough to seal the win and the final score of 80-72 for the Lady Cats fourth consecutive victory.
The Lady Cats had solid team contributions in securing the win. Jordan Wersinger led the way with 25 points while Kayley Frank poured in 21. Annie Noah and Kyra Hardesty each added 13 while Michelle Gabani controlled the glass with 10 rebounds to go with her two points and five assists. Blythe Benefield, Stevi Jones, and Katie Mayes also added two points each in the win.
The Lady Cats will hit the road again next Wednesday, January 12 as they head to Lawrence, Kansas for a matchup with Haskell Indian Nations University. It will be a double header night with the Lady Cats tip-off scheduled for 5 PM and the Bobcats following at 7 PM.