COLUMBIA — The Class 5, District 9 girls basketball final between Hickman and Rock Bridge was a special environment for basketball fans.
Thirty minutes before the game, there was a buzz in the crowd at the Hickman gym. It was a unique night, with the boys final between Hickman and Rock Bridge tipping after the Rock Bridge girls defeated Hickman, 50-38.
As a playlist of hip-hop and rap music played over the speakers, fans started to file in slowly. Parents, relatives and friends took their seats on bleachers behind the bench.
Students took their seats on the other side of the court and separated into color-coordinated cheering sections. Hickman students wore white and Rock Bridge students wore yellow.
Television crews began to set up to broadcast the game on TV and the internet. Closer to tipoff, teams started to warm up and more fans began to arrive until the bleachers reached capacity.
When the Hickman starting lineup was announced, the fans and students started to clap loudly in rhythm. When each player was named, a Hickman fan blew an air horn that could be heard throughout the gym.
When Rock Bridge’s starting lineup was announced, the other half of the gym made noise. The Hickman students turned their back to the court, refusing to recognize their rivals.
The energy increased during the game with every score, steal and hard foul. Fans made sure to let the referees know if they disagreed with a call. Parents and relatives of players loudly pointed out instructions to their loved ones.
The cheering sections would chant, “You can’t do that” when an opposing player committed a foul, and “Air ball, air ball, air ball” when a player’s shot didn’t hit the rim or go through the net.
Early foul trouble affected both teams. Rock Bridge’s Sophie Cunningham (15 points), and Hickman’s Ellie Johnson (13 points) and Kendahl Adams (10 points) each picked up two fouls in the first quarter.
In the second quarter the Bruins went on an 11-0 run to build a 23-11 lead. Hickman point guard Jade Holly ended the run with a layup. On the next possession, the 5-foot-7 Adams soared in the air to grab a defensive rebound over 6-foot-1 Audrey Holt of Rock Bridge. Adams dribbled up the court, weaving through Bruins defenders and found Hickman forward Cherish Walton for a jump shot.
“When I pick up early fouls, I feel like I have to come in stronger the next time,” Adams said.
The Kewpies scored the last seven points of the half to close the deficit to 23-18 at halftime.
The halftime buzzer wasn’t an ideal sound for Hickman because it stopped their momentum. The Kewpies made crucial mistakes each time they drew closer to the Bruins.
“We were just behind the eight ball most of the game and when we made a little run, we would turn over the ball or miss a layup,” Hickman coach Tonya Mirts said. “To be able to get over a hump against a team like Rock Bridge, you have to do everything right.”
Hickman trailed by nine going into the fourth quarter and trailed by seven with 3:04 left in regulation. Emily Miller’s leaning shot hit almost every part of the rim, but bounced out instead of going in. It was that kind of night for the Kewpies.
After Miller’s miss, Rock Bridge was able to run clock and made six of their final seven free throws to close out the win.
Both sides showed mutual respect for each other after a hard fought battle.
“Rock Bridge is a great, great basketball team and they play well together,” Holly said after playing her final high school game. Rock Bridge coach Jill Nagel "has a great team.”
Nagel also called Hickman a great team and compared Saturday’s game to the regular season meeting on Jan. 23. Nagel recognized the crowd for its impressive showing on a unique night for high school basketball in Columbia.
“Big thanks to Columbia for coming out and supporting girls basketball like this,” Nagel said. “Very proud of Columbia for doing that.”