Rock Bridge girls basketball wins districts behind freshman's performance

Friday, February 24, 2012 | 11:19 p.m. CST; updated 4:49 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 25, 2012
The Rock Bridge Bruins celebrate after their 75-67 win over Jefferson City High School at the Class 5 District 9 girls basketball championship at Smith-Cotton High School on Friday.

SEDALIA — After the final buzzer, the Rock Bridge girls basketball team formed a mosh pit in the middle of the court.

Sisters Sophie and Lindsey Cunningham could not stop hugging. After all, the Bruins had beat Jefferson City 75-67 to win the Class 5, District 9 championship on Friday.

It was revenge for last year's championship loss to the Jays, and after freshman Sophie Cunningham emerged from a celebratory locker room, she had a huge smile and one word to say: "Priceless."

“It feels good,” she said. “Especially against a great team like that. We’ve been looking forward to this the whole season.”

The goal at the beginning of this season was to win districts, and the Bruins had survived the championship game, beating the team that ousted them in 2011. But the stars of this year's championship were not even on the team last season.

Cunningham and Naphessa Collier of Jefferson, both freshmen, traded shots on almost every possession. Cunningham dropped 12 points in the third quarter alone, often scoring in unanswered spurts. In the second half, if she was open, she didn’t miss. She finished with 29 points, a career-high.

“In big games, she steps up,” Rock Bridge coach Jill Nagel said about Sophie Cunningham’s performance. “She knows when a big game is on the line, and there’s players like that that can step up and elevate their game.”

But the Jays had an answer in Collier. The 6-foot tall freshman could not be stopped by the Bruins. Rock Bridge had the lead most of the game and was even up by 11 at one point. But thanks to Collier, the Jays never went away until the game was over. She finished with a game-high 33 points.

“She’s a great player, she’s going to get her points,” Nagel said about Collier. “We didn’t want to give her that many points. That was freshman for freshman, point for point there. I’ll raise your two, and I’ll raise your three.”

The Bruins’ next game is at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Gale Bullman Building in Rolla. The winner advances to the Class 5 state quarterfinals.

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