By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
SENECA, Mo. —
The Ash Grove Pirates overcame some early nerves and kept East Newton’s shooters in check and claimed the Class 3 District 12 district title with a 42-31 win on Saturday night at Seneca High School.
It’s the first district crown for Ash Grove since 2004 and the young squad — the Pirates have just one senior on the roster —now advances to the sectional round in Springfield on Wednesday.
“We’ve gotten to the championship game and fallen short, so to get here and get the job done is amazing,” junior Halee Cashio said. “Winning this is pretty big.”
East Newton scored the game’s first six points and didn’t let the Pirates on the scoreboard until Katie Skelton’s putback more than four minutes into the game.
But that bucket sparked a 12-2 run that led to Ash Grove’s 16-11 halftime lead.
“In an environment like this it’s natural for nerves to play a factor and I think they played a huge factor in the first half,” Ash Grove coach Brent Milleson said. “In the fourth quarter we were able to settle in and get some pretty good looks and the tempo kind of swung our way.”
The Patriots struggled from beyond the arc, hitting just one of their 14 3-point attempts, but their stingy defense kept them in the game.
East Newton allowed just six third-quarter points and trailed just 28-24 with five minutes left in the game.
But Madi Johnson’s trey with 4:33 remaining started a 9-2 run for the Pirates that all but sealed the district title.
Johnson’s trey was the third of the fourth quarter after the Pirates hit just one in the first three quarters.
Cashio’s trey to open the fourth seemingly loosened the team.
“That seemed to be big,” said Cashio, who led the Pirates with a game-high 12 points. “Those 3-pointers gave us a lot of momentum and gave us the breathing room we needed to play our game.”
East Newton was led by Haley Heilig’s 11 points while Emily Brummett added seven.
Neither team scored more than nine points in any of the first three quarters and Ash Grove held the Pirates to 13 in the fourth.
“We wanted to try and create as many turnovers as possible and keep them from getting in the middle,” Cashio said. “We knew they could shoot and we didn’t want them to get on a roll.”