COLUMBIA — Rock Bridge was supposed to be nervous. The Bruins had never played in a final four game in school history. Perennial powerhouse Saint Joseph’s Academy had played in 11 prior Show-Me Showdown games. However, it was Rock Bridge who looked like it had been there before.
The first half was sloppy on both sides marred by poor passes and even worse shooting — Rock Bridge shot 9-for-23 in the first half and Saint Joseph’s shot 8-for-24. Rock Bridge found its rhythm in the second half on the way to a 55-42 victory over Saint Joseph’s Academy in the state semifinals.
With Rock Bridge ahead 21-19 at halftime, the Bruins opened the second half on an 11-2 run in part thanks to three 3-pointers.
Senior guard Claire Schaeperkoetter said that at halftime, the team realized they weren’t living up to their standards and that they weren’t shooting the ball so well.
Schaeperkoetter stepped up for the Bruins, connecting on three of her five 3-pointers in the third quarter. She finished the game with 15 points.
“Claire came out shooting on fire,” Rock Bridge coach Jill Nagel said. “She scared me a little bit.”
The whole Bruins’ team seemed to catch fire in the second half, shooting 11-for-19 from the field, including 6-for-9 from behind the 3-point arc.
With Rock Bridge leading 37-26 midway through the third quarter, Saint Joseph’s Academy went on a run of their own. The Angels scored eight consecutive points, capped off by two free throws by senior guard Patrice King and mid-range jumper by senior center Myrtie Reilly following an intentional foul by the Bruins’ Schaeperkoetter.
With the momentum clearly going the way of Saint Joseph’s, Rock Bridge sophomore guard Amaya Williams took matters into her own hands.
Following a Bruins’ timeout, Williams received a pass from senior guard Andrea Seabaugh, drained a deep three-pointer from the right wing and was knocked to the floor, drawing a foul on the play.
“I didn’t know I made it,” Williams said.
The crowd let her know, erupting into pandemonium. Two Bruin teammates rushed to Williams’ side and helped her to her feet. With a wide grin on her face, Williams calmly sank the ensuing free throw.
“We have a very veteran team,” Nagel said. “We are very disciplined. We give up good shots for great shots and Amaya knocked it down.”
William’s four-point play started a 17-4 run and the Bruins never looked back. She finished with a team-high 19 points in just 22 minutes.
On the other side, Saint Joseph’s King caused problems for the Bruins all night, scoring a game-high 25 points.
“I was getting frustrated,” Williams said. “It was like déjà vu all over again.” The déjà vu Williams alludes to is when Rock Bridge gave up 43 points to Hickman’s Yvonne Anderson in the district championship game.
Still, coach Nagel was happy with the way her team played defensively. Rock Bridge was all over the place, forcing 16 turnovers — 12 of them coming after the break. She was particularly pleased with the way the Bruins’ box-outs improved in the second half. Rock Bridge out-rebounded Saint Joseph’s 26-24 in the game.
Rock Bridge (24-6) advances to the state championship where they will take on Incarnate Word (29-3), who beat previously undefeated Hickman Mills 60-48 in the first semifinal match-up. Saint Joseph (25-5) will play in the third-place game against Hickman Mills (29-1) at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
“It’s exciting for us,” Nagel said. “We get to play for the state title. I feel pretty confident about our team.”