For the first four minutes of play, the Monroe City girls’ basketball team’s new defense allowed Mark Twain to keep the game close. But once the Lady Panthers got rolling, Monroe City pulled away with ease. Monroe City went on to beat Mark Twain 36-22 Friday night.

“We were working on things on defense,” Monroe City coach Cody Leonard said. “We have added a few different things and we were trying to work on them. I thought defensively we played pretty solid there.”

From when the game tipped off and Mark Twain took a quick 2-0 lead 10 seconds into the game to having 3:46 left in the first quarter, there were six lead changes between the Lady Panthers and Lady Tigers. When Monroe City finally took the lead for good, the Lady Panthers led 9-8 following a layup from Kiette Mundy.

“I was happy with how our girls came out,” Mark Twain coach Alex Brandenburg said. “We had a good first quarter. We had some tough stretches the rest of the game, but defensively I was proud of the girls effort that they gave tonight.”

Carly Spalding hit a three-pointer with 2:02 left in the opening quarter to increase the Lady Panthers’ lead to 12-8. Spalding scored eight of her 12 points in the first quarter.

“It seemed like everything was falling for me,” Spalding said. “I got open a lot so I just shot whenever I was open.”

Mark Twain junior Mackenzie Grossmann scored all eight of the Lady Tigers’ first quarter points. Grossmann would go on to finish the night with 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds for her third straight game with at least a double-double.

“Mackenzie played well tonight,” Brandenburg said. “She would probably tell you she could make more shots, but I was proud of the way she played. Monroe (City) doesn’t have a lot of size and we were able to take advantage of that.”

Leonard acknowledged the Lady Panthers need to zero in on Grossmann.

“We did a good job of putting (Grossmann) in the middle of that zone,” Leonard said. “She hit some tough shots, but we did a good job of keeping her out of the offense.”

But, once the second quarter started, Monroe City’s defense was able to contain Grossmann and the Lady Tigers. While Monroe City scored just 6 points in the second quarter, the Lady Panthers limited Mark Twain to just a pair of buckets, one from Grossmann and one from Maygan Huff.

“We used our new defensive play that we have been working on,” Spalding said. “We used a couple more other things and tested them out tonight. It is definitely harder to play a team the second time.”

Monroe City went into the break leading 18-12.

“Tough game,” Brandenburg said. “The Monroe City girls are very talented. They are very athletic and very good basketball players.”

In the third quarter, Monroe City’s defense got even tighter as the Lady Panthers started to pull away. Monroe City allowed a lone bucket to Mark Twain, from Grossmann, as the Lady Panthers outscored Mark Twain 8-2.

“We have just got to find a way to dig deep and get that intensity for four quarters straight,” Brandenburg said. “We had our lapses but we have to put an end to their runs.”

During the final eight minutes of play, Mark Twain matched its first quarter point total (8), but it wasn’t enough for the Lady Tigers as Monroe City put 10 points up on the board.

Of Monroe City’s starting five, three of the girls finished the night in double-figures. Spalding had a team-high 12 points while Mundy and Leah Albus both finished the night with 11 points. Spalding led Monroe City with 6 rebounds while Mundy and Olivia Crager both finished the night with five boards.

“We just kind of move the ball as fast as we can,” Spalding said. “We try to see who can get an open shot.”

Leonard was pleased with how his team played.

“I thought they played solid,” Leonard said. “The other night we had problems with turnovers. Tonight we had maybe three of four turnovers and they were mainly offensive foul type turnovers and us just throwing the ball away. We did a good job of moving the ball around and getting the best shot we could.”

After Grossmann, the Lady Tigers had five different girls record a solitary bucket. Kyley Barnes was one of the five to record 2 points for Mark Twain. However, in addition to her bucket, Barnes also pulled down 9 of Mark Twain’s 30 rebounds. Michelle Epperson grabbed five boards while coming off the bench.

Monroe City improves to 12-2 with the win and 1-1 in Clarence Cannon Conference play. The Lady Panthers will be off until Monday when the travel to Palmyra for the 70th Annual Tony Lenzini Tournament. The top seeded Lady Panthers will play Van-Far at 7:30 p.m.

With the loss, Mark Twain falls to 2-9 overall and 0-3 in Clarence Cannon Conference play. Mark Twain will be back out on the hardwood this afternoon. The Lady Tigers will travel to Clopton for a make-up game.

“We are improving,” Brandenburg said. “We are taking the stride in the right direction and I am proud of them for that.”