The controversy was finally put to rest on Friday night.
The Hickman and Rock Bridge girls basketball teams put all the rumors and blaming aside to face off almost a month to the day that their first game was supposed to be completed.
The Jan. 24 game was postponed because of a leak in the Hickman gym roof, and was eventually canceled. In the weeks since, each school pointed fingers at the other, deferring blame for the inability to schedule a date to resume the game. Students of both schools who made the half-hour trip to Jefferson City for the Class 5 District 10 championship game used the leaky roof to poke fun at each other.
After 32 minutes of physical, exhausting, and emotionally draining play, the No. 2 Kewpies claimed the district title by defeating the No. 7 Bruins, 46-39.
The schools’ fans had a very strong showing, nearly duplicating the loud, circus-like atmosphere of the canceled game. Rock Bridge students showed up wearing life jackets and snorkels, an obvious jab at Hickman’s leaky roof. Hickman students were equally clever. One homemade T-shirt read, “Tickets: $5.00; Fixing Hickman Gym: $2,000; Beating Rock Bridge after they were too scared to play Hickman: Priceless.”
Hickman coach Tonya Mirts said she was impressed by the number of fans from both schools, and senior Lauren Nolke said that the fans’ showing definitely had an impact on the game.
“It’s always good to hear people screaming as soon as you make a shot, make a steal,” Nolke said. “It kept the momentum from swinging the other way.”
While both teams are used to a physical style, not many seemed ready for the battle that ensued at Fleming Fieldhouse. Nolke set the tone for the game after she ran over Rock Bridge freshman Amaya Williams, who was setting a pick.
“I just saw the double-pick coming, and I was trying to get to the person shooting,” Nolke said.
After the game, Williams’ iced ankle was evidence of the brutal play. “It was rough, but it was both ways,” Williams said. “It was a physical game, but we expected that.”
Defending the post play of Rock Bridge’s Katherine Harry and Ashley Dressler added to the physical play. Senior Shana White and sophomore Chasity Prince were put in charge of stopping the Bruins’ bruisers, even though the two Kewpies were about three inches shorter.
“They put up a big fight,” Prince said. “We’ve been practicing it all week, but it wasn’t what we expected. They were very physical, and we just did our best.”
“It’s a lot of swimming,” White added, speaking of the technique to get around an opposing player for a rebound. “It’s hard to get around them, because (Katherine) Harry has long arms, and Ashley (Dressler) is so much stronger.”
While White and Prince constantly gave up position to the bigger and stronger Bruins, they managed to deflect rebounds away from the basket. Mirts said it was something they worked on in practice.
“If you can’t come up with the board, try to tip it out so at least we can recover defensively,” she said. “We might even get a fast break out of it.”
While stopping Dressler and Harry was a key to the Kewpies’ win, the title game ultimately was decided because of momentum. Hickman had an eight point lead at halftime, and stretched it to double digits in the third quarter. However, two three-point plays by Rock Bridge’s Harry brought the Bruins back from behind, and the Bruins took the lead after junior Andrea Seabaugh’s jumper from the baseline found the net.
That’s when Hickman’s Yvonne Anderson took over.
Anderson scored seven of the next 12 Hickman points, and had assists on all the other points. She showed all facets of her game. She drove the lane and drew fouls. She hit a long field goal with her toe on the three-point line. She forced two steals and set up Nolke’s layup and Prince’s 3 with great passes.
Mirts had nothing but praise for her star guard.
“When it really came down to crunch time, Yvonne delivered,” Mirts said. “Great players emerge when it really is crunch time.”
Anderson explained that her role as a leader on the team gave her confidence to take over.
“My teammates look to me to be the leader on the floor,” the 5-foot-7 guard said. “When I start playing, they all fall into place. The game got a little close, they lean on me, so I was doing what I was supposed to do.”
Anderson finished the game with 18 points. However, it was freshman Taylor Ford who sealed Hickman’s win.
With 27 seconds left in the game, Ford took a risk and jumped the player she was guarding, deflecting a pass without committing a foul. Ford explained her thought process during the play.
“I was just thinking, just play defense. Don’t make a foul, but don’t lose my man. When she passed it, I just put my hand out,” she said.
Mirts said that was another focus of practice this past week.
“All season, we’ve been needling her about deflections,” Mirts said. “We worked on it all week, and she came through when it mattered most.”
With the win, Hickman advanced to the sectional game. They will play Holt at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday at Borgia High.