Phoenix score early to burn Bearcats

Sunday, March 11, 2018

HILLSBORO, Mo. -- Miller Career Academy landed the first punch against the Dexter Bearcats and never let up Saturday in a MSHSAA Class 4 quarterfinal.

The Phoenix shot out to a big first-quarter lead and rolled past Dexter 63-44 at Jefferson College.

"They came out very aggressive, really guarded us hard. We struggled offensively because of it," Dexter coach Chad Allen said. "They were aggressive offensively. They just came out and played hard.

"It's like they came out and punched us right off the bat and never looked back. They kept the pressure on us all game long. They kept attacking us."

The Bearcats, a year after placing third in the state tournament, finished the season with a 23-6 record.

Miller Career takes an 18-9 record into the Show-Me Showdown, which starts Friday in Springfield. The Phoenix will face Carl Junction (25-3) in the semifinals.

"We got a big scare last Tuesday," Miller Career coach Darrin White said of needing overtime to win the sectional playoff 63-31 over Gateway. "We almost saw it slip away from us the game before, so it's been the most focused week of practice we've had the whole season."

The Phoenix never trailed, although Dexter matched them punch for punch early.

Maurcea Mathis opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, but Hannah Thurmon, Dexter's only senior, answered with a basket. Breyanna Howard scored to give the Phoenix a 5-2 lead, but Thurmon answered with basket inside.

However, the Phoenix closed the quarter with a 14-1 run to take a 19-5 lead into the second period.

Miller Career's top scorer, Daisha Seltzer, opened the run with a three-point play on a steal and a layup. Ajanae Garrett, who finished with 12 points, scored consecutive putbacks before Seltzer made a 3-pointer or a 15-4 lead.

Seltzer scored six of her 14 points in the opening quarter.

Maycie Martin interrupted the run with a free throw, but Garrett scored on a driving layup and Jayrissa Grayson made baseline jumper to give the Phoenix a 15-point lead.

At the start of the second quarter, the Phoenix stretched the run to 18-1 on consecutive baskets by Mathis before Dexter responded. Mathis scored eight of her game-high 17 points in the second.

Martin scored from the baseline, Natalie Sitze made a 3-pointer and Thurmon sank two free throws to cut the Bearcats' deficit to 23-12.

"We did make some runs at times, and they picked up the pressure even more," Allen said.

Rio Livingston's floater stopped Dexter's run, but Chaylea Mosby answered with a 3-pointer for her first points of the game.

"They did a fabulous job on Chaylea Mosby," Allen said. "They just covered her up all game long. She struggled to find any open looks. Hat's off to them."

Mosby finished with nine points, almost 18 below her season average.

"We've been watching her all week," White said. "We've been talking about helping, using a lot of bodies and not letting her turn the corner, and we did a good job of not letting her turn the corner."

The Phoenix scored the next six points -- four by Garrett who finished with 12 points -- to stretch their lead to 31-15. Martin scored a putback before halftime, and the Phoenix led 31-17 at halftime.

Miller Career opened the second half with a 9-3 run to ward off any comeback attempt by the Bearcats.

"I told them, 'We can't lean back. It's not a time to cruise. You've got to put on the gas,' and they responded well," White said. "They fought through the fatigue. They're running and they're tired and they're thirsty. They fought through it. I'm proud of them. They really played well today."

The second of Mosby's three 3-pointers were the only points scored by Dexter during the quarter-opening stretch. Thurmon's putback stopped the run.

Thurmon finished with a team-high 16 points.

"I thought Hannah played well tonight," Allen said. "She definitely got aggressive and looked to score and stepped up for us, especially with Chaylea getting covered up so much."

The Phoenix scored 11 of the quarter's final 18 points to take a 51-27 advantage into the fourth.

Miller Career's Chaadah Hodges scored seven of her 11 points in the third quarter.

The Phoenix stretched their lead to as many as 29 points in the fourth quarter before the Bearcats closed the game with a 10-0 run fueled by 3-pointers by Thurmon and Sitze, two free throws by Sitze and a basket by Keirstan Keirsey.

Martin and Sitze just missed double figures with eight points apiece.

"They're a great ball team. Their coach has been there awhile. He does a great job with them," Allen said. "We've had many battles with them the past several years. They're always a tough team."

Miller Career finished third in the state tournament in 2008 and 2012 and beat the Bearcats both times. The Phoenix beat Dexter 51-34 in the quarterfinals in 2012 and 54-50 in the third-place game in 2008.

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