FAIRFAX, Mo. — North Nodaway got a tough draw in the Fairfax Invitational. The Mustangs entered the tournament seeded second which is normally a good thing, but when the seventh seed was the much larger Falls City, it turned out to be a tough draw.
After a loss to Falls City, who ended up making the tournament finals, North Nodaway bounced back to win its final two games of the week, including a 51-35 victory over St. Joseph Christian to take fifth in the tournament on Saturday night.
“That first game was really tough — I don’t think they were seeded correctly, but you can’t control that,” North Nodaway senior Jadon Dobbins said. “… We didn’t let it get to our heads, and we came back and played really well. I was really impressed with how we played.”
The fifth-seeded Lions (4-9) gave the Mustangs (10-4) a challenge through the first three quarters with North Nodaway only leading 33-30 going into the final quarter, but the Mustang defense was able to put the game away in the final quarter.
“We are just looking to find ways to win right now,” North Nodaway coach Sami Jackson said. “Tonight, we definitely had to find a different way. We couldn’t get anything to work going off it the beginning. Then in the fourth quarter, we started going.”
The Lions didn’t score for the first five and a half minutes of the fourth quarter while the Mustangs went on a 9-0 run, triggered by a basket from Ellaina Renfro and highlighted by a fastbreak 3-pointer by Jacqueline Cline off an assist by Dobbins.
The Mustangs have a very new-look roster than the one they had prior to Christmas break as Renfro and others have had to step up with key players like Saylor Brown, Karissa Oberhauser and Kelsey Barcus all sidelined for the Mustangs.
“I’m seeing more playing time,” Renfro said. “But I’m also seeing what I can do as a teammate to help other people.”
Without those three, Dobbins has become the only upperclassmen suiting up for the Mustangs.
“Ellaina has improved more these past few games than anyone,” Dobbins said “I am so proud of her. I don’t think anyone really realizes it because she might not get that many points, but she gets so many boards and is really there on defense. She is such a big player for us.”
After the surge to open the quarter, the Lions were able to hang around a 10-point deficit, but in crutch time, the Mustangs let their senior captain take them across the finish line.
“Jadon has done a really good job this whole tournament,” Jackson said. “When we need her, she just kind of puts the team on her back, and she does what she has to do.”
Dobbins was able to take advantage of a Lion defense which had to come up and guard her tightly. She scored the final nine Mustang points by using her speed to blow by defenders.
“In times when it's close like that, I feel like that is when the leader in me comes out,” Dobbins said. “I feel like, you know, a lot of those younger girls look up to me, so I feel like I have to step up and take control. Once I step up, I feel like everyone kind of follows.”
Dobbins finished with a game-high 16 points.
North Nodaway freshman Lauren Herndon added 14 points — including eight in the first quarter.
“She has always been a great shooter,” Dobbins said of Herndon. “She just lacks that confidence some games.”
Cline added 11 points while Renfro had six and Saryn Brown had four.
“I think, a lot of times, we forget that that Jacqueline is so young and only a sophomore,” Dobbins said. “She is a big leader for this team.”
St. Joseph Christian was led by Gracie Walker with 10 points and Ella Bowman and Maya Freudenthal with eight each.
North Nodaway will look to continue its momentum this week with a Tuesday home game against Rock Port and then a cross-county rivalry game with Northeast Nodaway visiting Hopkins on Friday.