Van Buren girls basketball team takes BRL title

Sunday, January 20, 2013
From left, Van Buren seniors Brittany Hager, Gavy Cipponeri, Heather Shelton and Hattie Dazey accept the Black River League championship plaque after defeating Clearwater Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 in Piedmont, Mo. (DAILY AMERICAN REPUBLIC/Rob Tate)

PIEDMONT, Mo. -- Van Buren seized all momentum from the start Saturday night in the Black River League championship.

Against the odds of playing as the underdog in the top seed and defending champion's gym, the Lady Dawgs didn't allow a field goal to Clearwater in the first 8:51 of the game.

Van Buren senior Heather Shelton goes up for a layup while Clearwater sophomore Lexi Morris tracks her down in the second half of the Black River League championship Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, in Piedmont, Mo. (DAILY AMERICAN REPUBLIC/Rob Tate)

The Lady Tigers climbed back to a two-point deficit just after halftime but Van Buren pulled away again to claim the championship, 54-34.

It was the first tournament win in the careers of the seniors Van Buren.

"This is the biggest accomplishment," Van Buren senior Gavy Cipponeri said. "It means so much. We've always fell short in the past. We just wanted to win these tournaments coming up. We had so much teamwork and everyone did their part."

Van Buren coach Randal Jenkins was very pleased with the outcome.

"It's a great win for them and me too," Jenkins said. "They played really good and I'm really proud of them."

Van Buren (12-4) jumped out to a 7-0 lead to start the game and led 12-2 after the first quarter as Clearwater (11-3) managed just two free throws.

"That was key," Van Buren senior Brittany Hager said. "We knew that if we came out ahead, we could keep pushing."

After Cil Cipponeri hit a 2 to start the second quarter, Clearwater all-state guard Lexi Morris answered with a 3-pointer and then an old fashioned 3-point play to ignite the Lady Tiger offense.

Clearwater climbed out the cellar even more when Morris drained another 3-pointer at the 3:54 mark to cut the deficit to three points.

The teams exchanged points the rest of the half with Van Buren up 25-19 at the break.

Field goals by Morris and Haley Alcorn brought Clearwater to within two points early in the third quarter. But Clearwater went on another long drought offensively with just one field goal the rest of the quarter which in turn saw Van Buren mount their lead back to double digits.

Van Buren then pulled away even further with a 12-0 run to open the fourth quarter.

Heather Shelton led all scored with 20 points for Van Buren. Hattie Dazey and Gavy Cipponeri each added 10 points.

Cipponeri's defense was key in holding Morris to just 13 points, well below her average.

"You just really have to move with her," Gavy said. "She's a great player. Just block her out. If you can stop and keep stop her then you have a chance. We knew it was a key to stop her to win the game."

Said Jenkins, "Gavy was great on Lexi. I told her if we could hold her to 20 we had a shot. Defensively and rebounding I felt we did a good job."

Rebounding was also key to the defensive effort.

"We knew if we could out-rebound them we could do it," Hager said. "We had to block out, get on the boards. Rebounding was definitely the key and shutting down Lexi."

Kyra Garrison added 11 points for Clearwater.

The win should boost Van Buren even more so into the second half of the season.

"We've just been talking all year to just go play," Jenkins said. "We've had a lot of distractions here and there. Nothing anything major, just stuff we just need to play and not worry about what goes on in the game. We started doing that with Neelyville we played a little better. Then the first part of this tournament and against South Iron I felt we played really well."

Winning a tournament didn't feel real to Hager.

"It's so surreal," Hager said. "It's everything we've worked for. So worth it."

Hager felt that she and her teammates had a lot to prove in front of the packed house.

"I feel like every person in that crowd doubted us and we proved everybody wrong and that's the best feeling," Hager said.

The Lady Dawgs jump right back into tournament play with Big Springs Conference starting this week.

"It's starting to get late in the season and we have our other tournament next week," Jenkins said. "We are the underdog (Alton is top-seed) again at their school. They beat us earlier in the year."

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