By Richard Polen
Globe Sports Writer
Pierce City’s girls basketball team is on top of the Spring River Valley Conference standings, and that position suits head coach Rob Guerin just fine.
The Eagles have won their last five games, including key conference victories against Liberal, 53-30 on Jan. 24, and Jasper, 59-21 last Thursday.
Pierce City, 16-7 overall, is the No. 1 seed in the Class 2 district tournament at Purdy and will face Wheaton at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18.
After a wobbly start, Pierce City’s fortunes began to turn with the return of starting guards Bailee Hayward and Becca Hatfield, who missed most of December because of injuries.
Their return a week before the Neosho Holiday Classic helped prepare the Eagles to face Carthage from the powerful Central Ozark Conference for the championship of the tournament’s Gold Division.
“By the time we got to play Carthage, everybody was figuring out how to play together,” said head coach Rob Guerin, who is in his first season at Pierce City.
Pierce City’s 61-58 victory against Carthage came in the Eagles’ last game of 2012. Since then, Pierce City has been on a roll, including 6-0 in the conference, with three games remaining this week — today at Diamond, Tuesday against Golden City at home, and Thursday at Miller.
Krishna Merriman, a 5-foot-10 senior, is Pierce City’s leading scorer with 16.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.8 blocked shots and three steals per game.
Point guard Bailee Hayward, a sophomore, is averaging 10.1 points, 4.4 steals and four assists per game, and senior guard Emily Ashley, who had five 3-pointers against Jasper, is averaging 10.4 points and 4.7 assists.
“I don’t know. Some nights we have too much passing,” Guerin said. “They’re just so unselfish at times.”
In other first-round district tournament matchups, No. 4 Greenfield will test Miller at 6 p.m., No. 2 Purdy will face McAuley Catholic at 7:30 p.m. and third-seeded Jasper will play College Heights at 9 p.m.
“Most of them are in our conference, and we’ve seen Purdy, too,” he said, referring to a 55-34 victory Jan. 11 at Purdy.
College Heights head coach John Blankenship described Pierce City as having multiple scoring weapons.
“They have two solid post players and their defense is tough and that seems to spark their offense,” Blankenship said. “They’re incredibly athletic. They’re tall. Inside and out, they’re strong.”
Hatfield, Hayward, Ashley, Merriman and 6-foot junior Christine Younker are the Eagles’ starters, with help from key reserves Mattie Brottlund, a junior; sophomore Shania Hogan and freshman Emilee Sooter.
Pierce City went 9-0 in the conference last season on the way to a 20-6 overall record. Guerin, who was boys head coach at Crane the last five seasons, succeeded Tiffany Dirks, who became head coach at Carl Junction.
Guerin coached Crane to the Class 2 state championship in 2011 and began his career with two seasons at Exeter. He is in his first season coaching girls.
“I still coach the same way as I did with boys,” Guerin said. “We run the same drills and a lot of the same plays.
“I have a really good group of girls and they try to do exactly what I tell them. They work really hard.”