Nevada knocked out of districts by Webb City

Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Nevada High School senior Abby Harder (25) battles for a deflection during the Lady Tigers' 59-48 loss to Webb City in the Class 5, District 12 tournament opener Monday night inside Wynn Gymnasium.
Photo by Hank Layton | Daily Mail Sports Reporter

For the first time since 2017, the Nevada High School girls basketball team will not be adding a “district champion” plaque to the wall inside Wynn Gymnasium.

Webb City denied the Lady Tigers a chance to four-peat with a 59-48 road victory in the opening round (and semifinals) of the Class 5, District 12 tournament Monday night.

The experience was a new one for Nevada’s three seniors — Abby Harder, Tylin Heathman and Maleigha Hinton — who for the first time in their careers will not be heading to the state tournament. But it was still one in which they could find a silver lining.

“I know we worked so hard throughout the year to really carry on the legacy, and it’s just a shame that we weren’t able to. But I know every single one of those girls put their heart and soul into the game, and I couldn’t ask more from them,” Harder said. “It’s a shame that we didn’t have more time to get it clicking.”

Head coach Blake Howarth, whose squad finished the season 11-13 but lost four of its last five games after a two-week layoff in the middle of February due to winter weather, agreed.

“Those three, we tried to carry on that legacy and tradition of Lady Tiger basketball. We graduated a great group, so we had a lot of shoes to fill,” he said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get that district championship. But our effort’s there and it was there every single night, and I’m extremely proud of them for that.”

Heathman led the Lady Tigers with 19 points, including a pull-up 3-pointer at the top of the key to open the game.

Webb City’s press forced seven Nevada turnovers in the first quarter, but a pair of corner treys late in the period — one by sophomore Maddy Majors and the next from the hands of freshman Clara Swearingen — gave the Lady Tigers a 13-8 lead heading into the second.

A designed play on the team’s first possession saw Hinton dish to Harder cutting to the hoop for an easy layup, and for a moment it looked like the No. 2 seed had this one in the bag.

Howarth credited the first timeout of the game for the opportunity to calm his team down.

“I was able to have a chance to finally talk to the girls and just tell everybody, ‘Hey, take a breath. We’re good.’ And that’s kind of where we started slowing down and taking care of the ball,” he said. “We didn’t execute to our full potential on offense just because of the energy and the adrenaline, nerves, everything. I mean, this was a district game and we hosted it, so the nerves and everything were definitely there.”

The Lady Cardinals (9-14) put their pressure defense into another gear in that second quarter, though, forcing three more turnovers and rattling off a 7-0 run to tie the game at 15-15.

Swearingen eventually regained the lead for Nevada with her second 3-pointer, but Webb City freshman Mia Robbins and seniors Sierra Kimbrough and Jaydee Duda and quickly put their team back on top with layups — and the Lady Cardinals headed into halftime up 25-20.

Heathman came out of the break on the attack, hitting a jumper from the elbow and converting her own steal into a layup to quickly cut Nevada’s deficit to one possession.

But that’s when Duda took control of the game, sinking a jumper and a three as part of her 11-point third quarter. She dropped nine more in the fourth for a game-high 29 points.

“We knew going in that we needed to stop her. I don’t think we knew how much we were going to have to stop her,” Harder said of Duda. “But that was the only person, I think, that really stopped us.”

Howarth admitted he didn’t have much of an answer for Duda, especially after she never seemed to miss.

“We tried to slow her down. We tried to keep her in front,” he said. “And when we tried to keep her in front, she knocked down the 3-pointer. You close out, well, then she’s attacking. And so, it’s kind of like a double-edged sword.”

A 7-2 run by the Lady Tigers midway through the fourth — which consisted of a Heathman jumper from the free-throw line, a spin and a shot by Majors (who finished with nine points), and a pull-up 3-pointer by Swearingen (who also had nine) — brought Nevada back within striking distance. But the shots wouldn’t fall after that, and Webb City hit enough free throws to seal the game.

“No matter what the score is or how much time’s left, our girls never give up and they continue to fly around and play,” Howarth said. “Whenever Webb City got up, our girls continued to trap, play the way we want, got a lot of touches. Unfortunately, those shots didn’t fall. But I’m very, very proud of our girls’ effort for all four quarters tonight.”

Webb City, which was the No. 3 seed, will head to No. 1 Carl Junction (16-8) for the district championship Thursday night after the Lady Bulldogs knocked out No. 4 Harrisonville (10-12), 66-31.

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