CAMDENTON — Chayla Cheadle grabbed a fistful of her dark black hair, desperately trying to put it back into place.
Her hair tie nowhere to be found, Cheadle let her hair fall down on her shoulders and focused on guarding Waynesville freshman Kallie Bildner instead, cutting off Bildner's lane to the basket and slapping the ball directly to Rock Bridge sophomore Sophie Cunningham.
Rock Bridge (22-5) vs. Nixa (24-5)
WHEN: 7:45 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Drury University in Springfield
As Cunningham raced down the floor for two of her game-high 24 points, Cheadle put her hair back into place and smiled. Everything seemed easy on this night for Cheadle and the Rock Bridge girls basketball team.
Cheadle, the Bruins' junior co-captain, scored 18 points in the span of two quarters to help send Rock Bridge to a comfortable 65-32 victory over an overmatched Waynesville team Wednesday in a Class 5 sectional game in Camdenton.
"I came out ready," Cheadle said afterwards. "It was my time tonight."
From the opening tip, Waynesville (13-14), the District 10 champions, seemed overmatched. Rock Bridge sophomore Cierra Porter, with her lanky 6-foot-4 frame, towered over the tallest Tigers player by six inches.
And the Bruins (22-5) weren't shy about using their size. Porter blocked multiple Waynesville shots in the opening minutes, sending the ball viciously crashing into the bottom of the wall behind the basket.
After Porter got into foul trouble, Cheadle stepped in and quickly scored four points.
When Waynesville tried to close, Cunningham ripped the ball away from two Tigers and lofted a pass 25 feet down the court to a streaking Cheadle, who took two steps before elevating for an easy layup to give Rock Bridge a 14-point lead near the end of the first quarter.
Things went so well for the Bruins that the Waynesville student section's loudest cheer came when a referee leaped and tapped the ball free after it got wedged between the rim and the glass.
"Our hope was to get out to a quick start," Rock Bridge coach Jill Nagel said, "and let our defense dictate our offense, and Chayla did a good job of doing that tonight."
Rock Bridge forced 19 Tigers turnovers behind a frenetic full-court press, sending Cheadle flying at the Waynesville ballhandlers. The 6-foot-1 forward used her long arms and quick hands to deflect the ball on several occasions, leading to a number of easy Bruins baskets for Cunningham and Cheadle, who took turns leading the fast break.
"I try and get our energy up and get tips (on defense)," Cheadle said.
Cheadle's leadership helped stabilize the Bruins in the second quarter when Waynesville closed to within 12.
After a Rock Bridge travel, Cheadle backpedaled down the court, smiling and clapping her hands as Cunningham laughed. Seconds later, Cheadle tipped a ball and returned the favor to her teammate, feeding Cunningham for another basket.
Waynesville failed to challenge after that, falling behind by 22 at the break and never getting any closer in the second half thanks to a pair of Cunningham 3-pointers.
"Sophie can sense when we need a basket, and that's what she did tonight, stepping up and hitting a couple of threes," Nagel said.
Rock Bridge advances to face Nixa in Saturday's Class 5 quarterfinal scheduled for 7:45 p.m. at Drury University in Springfield.