By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
LEBANON, Mo. – This time of year, if you’re one of the prized fighters chasing history, you figure you’ll take a punch. The trick, of course, is not to stagger for long. A case in point are the Skyline High School Lady Tigers.
There the Class 2 state defending champs were in a sectional Wednesday night at Lebanon High School, trailing 16-14 early in the second quarter and unable to shake the Richland Lady Bears.
Worried? The Lady Tigers basically just shrugged their shoulders when asked afterward.
“We get everybody’s best game, and we know have to grind,” said Kaylee DaMitz, who along with the rest of the Lady Tigers blitzed Richland with full-court trapping defenses that fueled a 19-3 run over the final 5:33 of the second quarter. In essence, it paved the way to a convincing 59-32 victory.
DaMitz finished with a team-high 18 points, and Chloe Cole overcame an initial, cold-shooting performance to score 13 for Skyline, which also got 14 points from Savannah Owen and advanced to a 5 p.m. quarterfinal Saturday at Drury University.
It’s the sixth year in a row Skyline is in the quarterfinals and marked a rare night when the Lady Tigers employed the full-court press, though it was necessary to avoid the ball getting inside to Morgan Moss, who finished with a game-high 22 points.
“When this group was younger, they wouldn’t play well when they were behind,” Skyline coach Kevin Cheek said. “But now they know it’s a long game. They’re OK with playing 32 minutes.”
The game was tied 12-12 at the end of the first quarter, but Skyline led 33-19 at halftime. The advantage hit 20 points (40-20) at the 5:15 mark of the third quarter on a DaMitz bucket.
In other words, it had become a whirlwind in no time. In the second quarter alone, Skyline forced nine turnovers on 11 Richland possessions and converted those into 11 points.
“We practice it (full-court press and traps) every day in practice,” DaMitz said.
Cole had gone empty on her first five shots – all 3-pointers – but swished her next 3-pointer, giving Skyline a 33-19 advantage with 1:12 left before halftime.
“He gives me the green light and tells me to keep shooting it,” Cole said.
Said Richland coach Charley Parker, “They’re a very well-rounded team and understand their jobs. They’re always in the right spot and know when to rotate. It’s why they’re contending for another state title.”
Cheek and Skyline players expressed appreciation for Richland taking the fight to them right out of the gate.
The Lady Bears found success by controlling the tempo, then finding open shots on the perimeter and success on high-low plays inside to Moss.
“Morgan has carried us and has done a great job the last four years,” Parker said. “We had some open looks, and it kind of opened it up inside tonight for her.”
Jessi Whittle finished with 11 points for Richland, which also got two points each from Madi Weller and Brittany Latham and one from Katelyn Cole.
Meanwhile, it’s off to the quarterfinals for Skyline, who received 11 points from Autumn Garrett and return to familiar surroundings – the O’Reilly Family Event Center on Saturday.
“We’re familiar with that gym,” Cole said. “And that’s a very nice thing.”