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Calling on Columbia!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

EAT MY DUST: Couch's Tara Combs gets past Meadow Heights' Ashley Doublin for a layup in the Class 2 quarterfinals March 14 at the West Plains Civic Center. The Lady Indians dropped Meadow Heights by the count of 54-24, sending Couch to the Final Four in Columbia. Photo/Mullins

After the way the Couch Lady Indians played in the first two rounds of the Class 2 State Playoffs, that's the reaction that most of those that witnessed the sectional and quarterfinal rounds had to offer up -- "Wow."

The state's top-ranked Class 2 team, the Portageville Lady Bulldogs, had to be thinking that after Couch ripped them apart by 15 points in the sectionals.

That surely had to be what the Meadow Heights Lady Panthers had to be thinking after the Lady Indians whipped them by a staggering 30 points in the quarterfinals.

Turns out that was even what Couch Head Coach Cecil Meyer was thinking.


"The other night after the sectional game, all I could think of was just, 'wow'," he said. "I'd say it out loud every once in a while on the way home. But it's not like we're shocked that we're here. This was a goal we had from the beginning and we're just taking it a step at a time. But still, it's hard to imagine right now."

And where the Couch Lady Indians are, is in the Class 2 Final Four, the school's second trip to Columbia to compete for a state championship.

The Lady Indians' (26-3) semi-final opponent at Mizzou Arena on the University of Missouri campus is the Sparta Lady Trojans (28-0).

In the quarter-final round March 14 at the West Plains Civic Center, the Lady Indians jumped on Meadow Heights (21-7) from the opening tap and didn't slow down until their ticket to Columbia was clinched tightly in hand. That, and they had posted a 54-24 rout of the Lady Panthers.

Couch's defense was so tight that the Lady Panthers could not even get a shot off until three minutes had ticked off the opening-period clock.

In the meantime, the Lady Indians ripped off nine straight points to take an early 9-zip lead.

"We came out from the get-go and got after them," said Meyer. "They're (Meadow Heights) young and we were thinking if we could get after them early, they might kind of get down a little bit. And we've got kids that have been playing awhile, so they were ready."

Tara Combs (10 points) was sure ready.

She opened the game with a trey and a layup, followed in rapid order by a pair of freebies by Lorra Wicker (15 points) and jumper courtesy of Whitney Mills (13 points).

Whitney Welker broke the ice for Meadow Heights with her team's first points at the 5:03 mark, but Couch shot out with 11 unanswered points, including the last four of the first period by Jessica Jones (eight points), to take a commanding 20-2 lead into the second period.

By the standards they set in the first period, the second frame was a bit uneven for Couch, as the Lady Indians struggled to get into a real flow.

"The second quarter I thought we didn't do a very good job offensively, but defensively, even when we're down, we pick ourselves up with defense," Meyer said. "So we weathered that second quarter. We've always prided ourselves on our defense. If nothing else is working, we know that's going to work. That's something you can count on, even when you're not playing good on offense. Defense will keep you in games."

And defense certainly kept the Lady Indians in this one.

Although they scored just 10 points in the second, the Lady Indians held the Lady Panthers to eight and took a 30-10 advantage to intermission.

The Lady Panthers re-grouped a bit at the half and thanks to some aggressive offensive rebounding early in the third, opened the second half on a 5-0 run.

"We gave up four or five offensive rebounds in a row to them, but then Mills got a few break-outs and we got the score back to where we needed it," said Meyer. "But it did get kind of tense there for a few possessions."

After the Lady Panthers had pulled within 15, Couch hit fourth gear and went on a 10-zip run, including six points on three fast-break layups from Mills, to extend its lead to 40-15.

A free throw from Cassie Roberts gave the Lady Indians a 41-19 lead after three.

And that was about as close as Meadow Heights would get.

Couch ended the game on a 7-zip run, including four points from Wicker, plus two from Lizzie Nessling (six points) and a free throw by Crystal Britt, to wrap up the Lady Indians' 54-24 victory, sending them back to the Final Four for the first time since 2001.

Welker and Gina Cureton paced Meadow Heights with six points apiece.

In the sectional round March 11 at the Bess Activity Center in Poplar Bluff, all the Lady Indians had to do was knock off the state's top-ranked Class 2 team, the Portageville Lady Bulldogs.

Just how good was Portageville?

Considering that coming into the sectionals, the Lady Bulldogs' only two losses on the season were to Dexter (27-0), the top-ranked team in Class 4, exceptionally good would be the best answer.

But Couch was more than up for the daunting task.

The Lady Indians trailed for the first two minutes of the night and then took over, hammering the Lady Bulldogs (26-3) 60-45, in thoroughly convincing fashion.

Portageville wanted to dump the ball inside to 6-0 center Jeleea Drake, but Couch would have none of that and held the Lady Bulldogs' post threat to just six points.

Meanwhile, Mills, Nessling and Combs did the bulk of the scoring damage for the Lady Indians. Mills racked up a game-high 20 points, with Nessling kicking in 16 and Combs 13 for the game.

Couch led 13-8 after the first period and when Portageville tried to speed things up early in the second with full-court pressure, the Lady Indians simply shredded the defense and pulled in front 21-10 on a series of easy layups and open mid-range jumpers.

The Lady Indians took a 30-18 lead to the break.

Portageville got within nine points on the opening bucket of the second half, but that was as close as the Lady Bulldogs could get.

Couch stood in front 44-33 after three and continued to roll in the fourth period, en route to a big 60-45 win over Portageville.

Jones finished with eight points for Couch, with Wicker adding four.

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