Kickapoo left Saturday’s Class 5 Show-Me Showdown girls’ championship game with plenty of bumps and bruises, but also the program’s sixth state title.
Kickapoo, by way of 53 team fouls called against Kirkwood, had a record-setting day at the free throw line en route to a 63-53 victory over the Pioneers at Mizzou Arena.
“Boy, that was fun,” said Chiefs coach Jim Pendergrass. “The kids were unbelievable as far as their relentlessness. We did not get discouraged when it got difficult. I was really proud of how we kept our composure. We did the things we had to do against a team like that.”
The Chiefs won the game at the free throw line, going 37-for-53 overall, including 20-for-29 in the second half.
The 53 free throw attempts are the most ever in a Show-Me Showdown girls’ game, surpassing Platte County’s mark of 50 set in the 2009 Class 4 title game against Webb City. Kickapoo’s 37 makes were one shy of tying the Final Four record, also held by Platte County with 38 in the same 2009 game.
The 37-for-53 performance at the line (69.8 percent) was about on-par for the Chiefs, who shot 72 percent from there entering the state tournament.
“We had good spacing on offense and were able to get them spread out and get some drives to the basket,” Pendergrass said.
Junior Jordan Sanders led a relentless Kickapoo lineup that attacked the basket – and glass – from start to finish with Kirkwood’s tallest player, 6’2” junior forward Lauryn Miller, in foul trouble for much of the contest.
Sanders, who battled foul trouble herself in Thursday’s semifinal win over Liberty when she had 4 points and 3 rebounds, finished with a team-high 20 points and a game-high 15 rebounds against Kirkwood.
“It was rough, but I just did what I could to get to the basket,” Sanders said. “(On defense), I tried to get deflections. I tried to get in position and not foul as much.”
The Chiefs, trailing 30-29 early in the second half, went on a 13-2 run that stretched into the fourth quarter. Jordan Wersinger’s basket eight seconds into the fourth quarter put the Chiefs up 42-32, their biggest lead of the game up to that point.
Kickapoo never trailed again, although Jayla Everett’s layup with 38 seconds remaining got the Pioneers as close as five points (58-53). Wersinger added two free throws to push the margin back to seven and Kirkwood missed a 3-pointer on its next possession.
The win marked the Chiefs sixth state championship overall and first since 2005. Kickapoo’s last Final Four appearance before this season came in 2009-10, when it finished third.
Both of those Kickapoo teams were coached by Stephanie Phillips, who died from cancer on July 10, 2010. Pendergrass was a member of each coaching staff as an assistant.
“I felt like she’s always been with me since she passed away,” Pendergrass said. “I know she was looking down on us tonight.”
Kickapoo out-rebounded Kirkwood 46-28.
Audrey Warren had 12 points and 10 rebounds and was a symbol for the physical nature of the game. She went down early after taking a blow to the face while going for a loose ball, then later had a Kirkwood player roll into the bottom-half of her legs from behind.
After the second fall, Warren stayed down for over a minute and was helped off with assistance, battling what looked to be an ankle injury.
“I always try to bounce up from an injury,” Warren said. “I knew I couldn’t just be hurt. I did everything I could to just get over it and be out there with my team.”
Kickapoo, which averaged 14 3-point attempts per game entering the state tournament, was 0-for-3 in that category against Kirkwood.
“We knew we needed to get to the basket,” Pendergrass said. “You need to get good shots in these type of games. We got good shots tonight.”
Jayla Everett led Kirkwood with 24 points, with Mizzou commit Jordan Roundtree scoring 16. The Pioneers shot 18-for-59 from the field (30.5 percent) and were 5-for-21 from 3-point range.
Wersinger had 14 points for Kickapoo. Laura Vierkant – Kickapoo’s lone senior starter – had 12 points, all of them coming at the free throw line where she was 12-for-14. The Chiefs were credited with just one assist.
Kickapoo graduates Vierkant and reserves Shannon Lopez and Hannah Cantrell, but otherwise returns the bulk of its scoring, including Sanders, Wersinger and Warren.
“We’ll see,” Pendergrass said when asked about the expectations of a repeat. “The proof’s in the pudding. If we’re sitting here next year, then they’re not going to be content. But they’re going to have to come in every day and work just like this year. Every other team will be trying to get better and get to here.”
Kickapoo 63, Kirkwood 53
Kirkwood 7 19 6 21 — 53
Kickapoo 11 18 11 23 — 63
Kirkwood – Jayla Everett 24, Jordan Roundtree 16, Lola Bracy 8, Madison Buford 2, Ashley Hundley 2, Makayla Wallace 1
Kickapoo – Jordan Sanders 20, Jordan Wersinger 14, Laura Vierkant 12, Audrey Warren 12, Ari Acuff 4, Sharon Lopez 1