The victory by Poplar Bluff marked win No. 600 for Lady Mules head coach Kirk Chronister. In year 30 at Poplar Bluff, Chronister has put together an outstanding program that is recognized throughout the state. With only 159 losses, Chronister has built a juggernaut of a girls program, with just one losing season.
"It's hard to believe I've been coaching so long," said Chronister. "It has been a privilege to coach each and every girl that has gone through the program."
On Monday night, the Lady Mules got a quick start thanks to the play of 5-
foot-6 senior Kristen Ploetze. While Dexter struggled to score early in the first quarter, Ploetze put the Lady Mules on her back scoring the first seven of Poplar Bluff's points in the contest.
With Poplar Bluff up 12-8 in the waning seconds of the first, the Lady Mules increased the lead, as Ploetze grabbed an offensive rebound and got the put back to end the quarter. After one quarter of action, Poplar Bluff led 14-8.
"Poplar Bluff had more intensity than our girls did early in the game," said Dexter head coach Gavin Miller. "Ploetze was a one man show for Poplar Bluff. We just could not stop her early. I see a trend in how our team plays, if the girls start slow, they seem to struggle the entire game."
The Lady Mules played some intense half-court man defense, which seemed to rattle the Lady Bearcats throughout the first half.
"We felt coming into the game that we could pressure them on defense," said Chronister. "Didn't want to pressure full-court, just wanted to play solid half-
court defense and hope the pressure might disturb some of their great shooters."
Poplar Bluff forced Dexter to commit six turnovers in the second quarter, as the Lady Mules held a 23-14 heading into halftime. Poplar Bluff extended the lead to nine at half, as 5-8 freshman Natalie Stonecipher hit a 3-pointer to close out the second quarter.
"The girls played like they were asleep in the first half," said Miller. "We were not with it in the half. The way we played will get you beat every time."
Ploetze led Poplar Bluff at half with nine points and six rebounds in the first half. Stonecipher ended the half with five points. Stefanie Ferguson, a 5-4 sophomore point guard for the Lady Mules, had a good half with two points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Sophomore Amanda Dooley led Dexter with eight points and three rebounds in the first half. Taylor Nelson had four points for the Lady Bearcats in the half.
While lethargic play hindered Dexter in the first half, the Lady Bearcats came out and played strong in the third, as Nelson went to work inside the paint for Dexter.
Nelson, a 5-10 senior forward, scored seven points in the third quarter and Dexter closed the gap to 34-29 with seconds remaining in the third. As in the second quarter, Poplar Bluff got a huge lift heading into the next quarter, as Stonecipher drilled another buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the Lady Mules a 37-29 lead heading into the fourth.
In the fourth quarter, Nelson tried to lead her team back. Within seconds of the start of the fourth, Nelson hit a 3-pointer to cut the Poplar Bluff lead to five, 37-32. After a slow first half, Nelson showed her senior leadership by scoring 15 of her 19 points in the second half.
Dexter went to full-court pressure in the fourth to try and rattle the Lady Mules. Dexter also utilized a trapping defense in the effort to force turnovers.
The pressure seemed to work for Dexter, as the Lady Bearcats cut the lead to four, 39-35 with two minutes remaining in the contest.
However, a breakdown in coverage on the press, will haunt Dexter. Two backdoor cuts by Sandra Pratt of Poplar Bluff led to four straight points and 43-35 lead with one minute to go in the game.
Nelson hit a 3-pointer with 13 seconds left in the game, but it was not enough for Dexter. Poplar Bluff hit their free throws in the remaining seconds to push the Lady Mules to the 48-43 win.
"A lot of girls played tonight because I am looking for five that will produce results and give maximum effort on the court," said Miller. "We have to have a good mental attitude and a desire to out play our opponent, if we expect to pick up more wins. Give credit to Poplar Bluff, they have a great coach over there and they shot extremely well and played good defense. Kirk (Chronister) is someone, as a young coach, I look up to and try to mold my program after."
Ploetze led Poplar Bluff with 16 points, seven rebounds and had three assists.
"Kristen (Ploetze) made good decisions and showed great leadership tonight," said Chronister. "She led us tonight and the girls followed."
Pratt scored nine points and had six rebounds (four offensive) for the Lady Mules. Ferguson chipped in with eight points, led the team with five assists and had three rebounds. With two 3-pointers, Stonecipher ended the game with eight points.
"We had great effort tonight," said Chronister. "Dexter is a quality program and it took our kids having a good attitude, solid defense and hustle to beat them. I was impressed with the way our girls hit the floor trying to recover the loose balls."
Nelson led Dexter with 19 points and six rebounds. Dooley had 10 points and six rebounds for the Lady Bearcats. Junior Molly Burleson had a good all-
around game for Dexter off the bench with two points, four rebounds and led the team with four assists.
"After we beat Jackson," said Miller, "I think we were really up and thought that we could just show up and win games. We have to be level-headed. We have to come out Thursday and play hard."
Poplar Bluff (11-9) outrebounded Dexter 24-22 and held the offensive rebounding advantage 11-7. Dexter had more assists than the Lady Mules 11-10, but turned the ball over more with 16 turnovers compared to the 14 committed by Poplar Bluff.
Dexter (14-4) will host the Scott County Central Bravettes on Thursday.