JEFFERSON CITY — Hickman senior Aqua Corpening stood at the free-throw line in the second quarter ready to take two shots. She had been struggling with her jump shot in the first half.
The Jefferson City crowd was serenading her with Journey’s classic hit, “Don’t Stop Believing.” It was not the last time they would chant at her expense.
The next time the Jays fans chanted, it was more of an attempt to cover up their anxiety.
In the fourth quarter, Corpening had found her rhythm and hit several shots to help the Kewpies stay close. Chants of “ball hog” rang out any time Corpening touched the ball. Corpening did all she could for the Hickman girls basketball team, scoring 22 points, but it was not enough as the Kewpies lost 50-43 to Jefferson City on Wednesday.
Jefferson City advances to the Class 5 District 9 tournament final on Friday, where they will take on top-seeded Rock Bridge.
Kewpies coach Tonya Mirts said the chants come with the territory of being a featured player.
“Aqua’s played with that all year long, and frankly I thought she played herself out of the jitters,” Mirts said. “I thought she was one of the only players that really started to do what she normally does.”
Corpening could not get her jumper to fall in the first half, having several shots rattle in and out of the rim. The Jays focused on her defensively, cutting off lanes and sending extra defenders whenever Corpening managed to get into the paint. Jefferson City freshman guard Monique Townson, who scored 14 points, said it was all in the game plan.
“We knew that she was a really good scorer, and we knew that stopping her was the key to this game,” Townson said.
Corpening scored eight of the Kewpies' 13 first-half points.
Shelby Mustain scored 17 points for the Jays. Mustain, standing 6 feet 1 inch tall, continuously snatched offensive rebounds from the outstretched hands of the smaller Kewpies.
The Jays needed every one of Mustain’s rebounds as Corpening caught fire in the second half. In the third quarter, she hit several 3-pointers and finished with 13 points in the period.
With less than a second left on the clock in the third quarter, Corpening reached out and made what she thought was a clean block on Jays guard Sadie Theroff's 3-point attempt. Instead, she was called for a foul and was clearly irritated. After three successful free throws, Corpening threw up a shot from half court that banked of the backboard and went into the basket. The shot did not count, but it was clear Corpening had found her comfort zone.
Despite Corpening's efforts, the Kewpies just could not stop Jefferson City from attacking the basket. The Jays also had motivation on their side, as Hickman had beaten them twice already this season.
Corpening got little help from her teammates. She was the only player to finish in double figures for the Kewpies. Sophomore Jade Holly added nine points.
Claire Ortbals, who had led the Kewpies in scoring the last two games, scored just one point. Normally a 3-point shooter, Ortbals couldn’t get her shot to fall from outside.
“She had a rough shooting night tonight,” Mirts said. “She shot from her spots, but they just didn’t fall.”
Mirts clearly felt for her players. She was sad to see what has been an improving season come to a sudden end.
“They’re very disappointed,” Mirts said. “The frustrating thing is I thought they played not to lose rather than play to win.”
Mustain was just excited her team was advancing to the finals and offered a bold prediction.
“It feels great,” Mustain said. “And we’re going to beat Rock Bridge on Friday.”