By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
If you look closely at the Republic cheering sections, you’ll see lots of orange, black, painted signs and… bread?!
Full loaves of bread, in the package, nutritional information and all.
“It started at the beginning of the year, our kids were saying “go get the bread” and it’s one of those mottos that we’ve taken on,” said Republic coach Kris Flood. “We joke about it and our kids find it funny. Ever since the Kickapoo game we’ve had three loaves of bread so we get the bread, that’s what we do.”
That bread will be making a trip to Hammons Student Center next weekend.
The Lady Tigers, considered by some to be underdogs, survived an early flurry to top Rock Bridge 43-40 in Class 5 Quarterfinal action, securing their spot in next weekend’s Final Four.
“Since the Pink and White they’ve bought into everything we’re trying to do and it’s been a total team effort,” said Flood. “I’m so proud of the way they’ve fought through. We kept fighting and battling back and that’s the one thing with this group. They never give in. They feel like they’ve always got a shot. I just can’t explain how proud I am of this group.”
It was that relentless nature that not only helped Republic hang around, but ultimately bought them an extra possession to win the game.
Leading 42-40 with under five seconds to play, Junior Delaney Smith, who hit two huge 3s during the game, made one of the biggest plays of the season when she dove on the floor following a missed free throw, ripping the ball from the pack and allowing Flood to use his final timeout.
Sophomore Clara Fronabarger then sank a free throw, Rock Bridge’s desperation heave as time expired fell short and Republic clinched its first Final Four berth since Flood led his Lady Tigers to the Class 4 state championship in 2012.
“We’ve emphasized the 50-50 balls,” said Flood. “Sometimes we have to play smaller lineups and they do what we need them to do. It’s been a heck of a ride. I’m just glad they’re going to have a chance to experience the Final Four.”
Early on in Saturday’s contest, Republic’s season was in doubt.
The Lady Bruins used a decisive size advantage to pound a smaller Republic frontline. Rock Bridge led 17-8 after the first quarter.
But, as much as RepMo’s lack of size hurt them, the group’s lack of experience was also detrimental.
Coach Flood compared Saturday’s start to the start his team had Wednesday in Sectionals against Kickapoo.
“We were tight. I could see it in their faces,” said Flood. “We came out and tried to match up at the beginning, but we ended up adjusting. We felt like we were going to have a tough time with their size. We’re primarily a man team but they’ve bought into that zone.
“We’ve got a young group and there was some inexperience. But we’re getting there, we’re getting better.”
That growth was seemingly before our eyes on Saturday.
For instance, sophomore Savana Powell-Goodman, who went scoreless on Wednesday, contributed 12 points, including a pivotal three that game Republic a 30-29 lead in the third quarter and a backdoor layup late in the fourth that gave Republic a 40-38 lead; their final field goal.
“We’ve got some good kids off our bench and they came in and hit some big shots tonight,” said Flood.
Fronabarger led the way with a game-high 17 points. The sophomore was also stellar in Republic’s fullcourt pressure that forced several Rock Bridge miscues.
Eryn Puett led the Lady Bruins with 11 points.
For RepMo, this has been a long time coming.
Flood and Company have been to the Elite Eight two previous times since that 2012 Final Four run, only to come up one game short of a Final Four.
Now, in what could’ve been considered a rebuild following the season-ending injury to senior Avy Powell-Qualo, Republic’s dream season continues, something that doesn’t surprise Flood at all.
“This group has overcome some stuff,” said Flood. “They’ve worked their tails off and they’re getting rewarded for that… Now we get to try to have a little fun.”
Republic will play in the Class 5 Semifinals on Friday, Mar. 15, at 1:45 p.m.