COLUMBIA — Just over two minutes into Thursday’s state semifinal, Mary Barton hit a 3-point shot to give St. Joseph’s Academy a lead over the Rock Bridge Bruins.
The problem was, the Angels struggled to score inside the arc.
Rock Bridge will play Lee's Summit North at 2:40 p.m. at Mizzou Arena.
Barton stands 5-foot-7-inches tall, and none of her teammates eclipse 6 feet. Chayla Cheadle, at 5-foot-11-inches, is the only Bruins starter who measures under that mark.
That height discrepancy played out on defense, as well.
On the possession that followed Barton’s three, the Bruins racked up three offensive rebounds before senior Audrey Holt converted an uncontested layup to give the Bruins back a lead that they would not lose.
The Bruins (26-3) finished the contest with 17 offensive boards in a 57-46 win Thursday over St. Joseph's (16-15) to advance to play Lee’s Summit North (24-5) in Saturday’s final, scheduled for 2:40 p.m.
“It wasn’t our best shooting performance, but when you get yourself 17 extra possessions, that certainly helps,” Bruins coach Jill Nagel said.
Although the Bruins seemed in control of the game throughout the evening, they were never able to pull away from the Angels. That was somewhat of a win for St. Joseph’s.
“We giggled at one point (saying) our goal was no running clock,” Angels coach Julie Matheny said. “We knew everything had to be perfectly aligned (to win).”
Converting 9 of its 17 3-pointers gave St. Joseph's a chance to keep up with Rock Bridge. Nagel was surprised. She didn't realize there were that many misses.
“I thought it was better than that,” Nagel said.
The Angels knew they would need to take advantage of the 3-point arc if the stars were to align.
“We thought that would probably be the only (shot) they gave us,” Matheny said. She told her starting forward, senior Abbey Combest, that she would be lucky to get a shot off against the Bruins.
During a timeout, Angels guard Nikki Tracy told her coach that she couldn’t even see the basket through the height and length of the Bruins defenders.
On the other end of the floor, Rock Bridge’s Sophie Cunningham had no trouble seeing the basket. Cunningham led all scorers with 19 points on 11 shots.
Cunningham averages 18.3 points per game, so Thursday’s performance was nothing out of the ordinary.
However, senior guard Laurie Frew’s performance was.
Frew, who averages 2.6 points per game, hit three shots from beyond the arc, each giving the Bruins a major momentum boost.
Nagel said this team was perhaps the deepest she has coached and that it was quite a luxury to be able to pull a player like Frew off the bench.
“It’s the kids that step in and do something special that make championships,” Matheny said.
Matheny’s school knows a thing or two about championships. The Angels own six state titles in their history, the last one came in 2004. And it was the Angels who took second place in 2013, losing 46-38 to the Bruins in the championship game.
“Tradition never graduates,” Nagel said.
The Bruins will have a shot at establishing their own tradition with a third-straight state title on Saturday.
If successful, Rock Bridge would become only the sixth team in Missouri girls basketball history to win three or more consecutive titles.
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.