If Danica Patrick could drive as well as the Verona backcourt, all the men would retire from NASCAR.
|Jessica Smith rolled in 21 points and Tristan Carrasquillo added 16 more as the Lady Wildcats won a big road victory at Exeter on Thursday night, 54-42. That leaves Verona and Purdy with just one conference loss apiece, and those two teams square off at Purdy on Feb. 26. Since Purdy will host Exeter on Feb. 18, that game between Verona and Purdy will indeed decide the Ozark 7 title.|
The Lady Wildcats harassed Exeter into numerous turnovers with their trapping press, were more aggressive on the boards and owned a four-point advantage at the free throw line. That's a recipe for success that any coach would like to cook up.
|"Basketball is a game of runs," said Verona Coach Ryan Yates after the game, "and we had a couple more runs in us tonight than they did."|
|Verona controlled a relatively slow-paced opening period, crawling out to a 6-4 lead at the 3:45 mark on a Carrasquillo free throw. The Lady Wildcats closed out the quarter with a 7-2 run to take a 13-6 lead at the break.|
Smith scored 7 of her gamehigh 21 in the first quarter alone, and Jenna Chadd pumped in a trey and a layup in the final 2:47 to ignite the Verona run. Shelby Bowman hit one short jumper and a free throw for Exeter as the Lady Tigers struggled offensively against the Verona press.
|But the home team opened the second quarter with a flurry, tying the game at 13-13 with Destani Stensrud's long trey with 5:26 on the clock. Carrasquillo led Verona back out in front, hitting a trey and then scoring twice in the lane to build a 20-14 lead.|
|Exeter's Chelbie Kern cut behind a screen and scored with a laser assist from Bowman for a momentary reprieve, but Verona poured in three more baskets before the buzzer, and the Lady Wildcats owned a 26-18 lead after a first half in which they never trailed.|
|Carrasquillo opened the third quarter with a hot hand, nailing a three from the right corner. In just 31 seconds, Verona had posted the first double-digit lead of the contest. Stensrud score three to answer for Exeter, and the teams traded baskets as the lead flipped from 9 to 7 twice.|
|But the Lady Tigers blinked on their turn with a minute to play in the period, and Jenna Chadd drove down the lane and scored to give Verona a 40-29 lead at the final break.|
|Exeter's Jason Cole knew his options were limited for the fourth quarter. Verona is a team that knows how to protect a lead. The Lady Wildcats wore Miller out in their battle with Smith alone pumping in 30 free throws in the fourth quarter. Last week against Purdy, it was the same scenario, and the same result.|
|But one team did come from behind against Verona -- the Exeter Lady Tigers. Cole's girls overcame a late 7-point deficit to beat Verona at Verona. That's a point that was likely hammered home on both benches in the interval between the final periods.|
|Verona's Jessica Smith literally took the game in her hands in the fourth quarter. The lithe sophomore guard scored the first 5 points of the last stanza, three of them from the free throw line. With the lead stretched to 16, Exeter struggled to turn the tide.|
|But stress and fatigue robbed the Lady Tigers of their shooting touch just when they needed points in the worst way. Exeter did not score in the period until Stensrud hit one free throw with 4:15 on the clock, and the lead stood at 45-30.|
|Verona ran their trademark four-corner stalling offense, needing only the baby-blue uniforms to look like the North Carolina teams from the Dean Smith era. As the final buzzer sounded, the Lady Wildcats celebrated a 54-42 victory.|
|"We didn't do anything differently," said Yates, "we're just playing good basketball. I thought the girls worked hard and had good composure. It's hard to play at Exeter, they have a good program and a really good coach."|
Smith paced Verona with 21 points, three rebounds, five assists and one steal while Carrasquillo added 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. Other standouts for the Lady Wildcats were: Chadd 11 points, four rebounds, one assist and four steals; Jori Dodson, 5 points, three rebounds and one block; and Beth Bigham, 1 point, two rebounds and one assist.