West Plains (5-2) entered the game as the No. 7 seed, but Ava was hung with the Zizzers early and were within one point (32-31) late in the second quarter before Cameron Butler ended the half with a 6-0 run to help West Plains open a seven-point lead.
The Zizzers then opened the second half on an 8-0 run as West Plains put the clamps on the Bears’ leading scorers, Ben Loge and Brandon Guengerich and expanded the lead from seven to 15 early in the third quarter.
“They went out and went on an 8-0 run and the lead went from seven to 15,” said Ava head coach Nathan Houk. “From then on we battled back. They (West Plains) are a good ball team. They are quick. They are very athletic. They jump well and rebound well. They do some things we don’t characteristically do against other teams. We played some zone because they outmatched us physically. We did that to try and slow them down.”
West Plains head coach Kevin Smith said the Zizzers will have to get off to a better start on Friday in a quarterfinal game against the Republic Tigers. Republic seeded second in the Gold Division, handled Willow Springs with ease in its first round game, defeating the Bears, 71-15.
“We didn’t do the things consistently that we wanted to do,” Smith said. “I saw flashes of it. But we just gave it away. I got to give credit to Ava. They did the right things they were supposed to do. We have got to just move on and get ready for our second round and look for a good game tomorrow.
West Plains had four players finish in double figures and 11 players scored in the game. Junior Justin Davis led with 15 points, while Butler added 13, junior Zach Flippin added 12 points and sophomore Zak Adkisson added 10 points off the bench.
Ava is off to a 3-4 start, but Houk said the Bears have played tough competition through the early stages of the season. In addition to its loss to Ozark Conference foe West Plains at the Blue and Gold, Ava has losses to state-ranked Hartville, Gainesville and Reeds Spring.
“We can’t play to the level of our competition,” Houk said. “We have got to be able to compete with the big schools. We’ve got to step up and play better against them. We’ve got to fight to win those games. Our outlook looks good. We got to keep playing hard.”