By Cody Thorn (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
LIBERTY, Mo. — Miller finally started to hit some shots in the third quarter and once that happened, the Cardinals rallied a bit a Class 2 quarterfinal game against East Buchanan at Liberty North High School.
The Cardinals, ranked No. 6 in the final Missouri Basketball Coaches Association regular season poll, got within two points but never could close the gap further in a 51-41 loss on Saturday.
The win vaults the Bulldogs, ranked No. 2, to the state semifinal for the first time in school history.
After the opening 16 minutes of play, it would’ve been easy to see East Buchanan (27-3) reaching that spot.
The Bulldogs started with a 9-2 run and at halftime held a 24-10 lead over Miller (25-6) and limited the Cardinals to only three baskets in the first half.
“Hand it to them, they are a good, physical team and they came out ready to play and we weren’t knocking down shots early,” Miller coach Hannah Wilkerson said. “They were really patient but it boiled down to defense. We weren’t blocking out early. They played all four quarters very well and we waited a little bit too late.”
Miller knocked down shots in the third quarter and closed the frame on an 8-0 run and East Buchanan led 32-28 going into the fourth.
Payten Richardson hit a pair of 3-pointers for Miller, while Ashten Kinglsey made a 3-pointer as well. The Cardinals made seven baskets in the third quarter.
“We had a great first half but in the third quarter, they played their game; that is shooting the three,” East Buchanan coach Cori Elms said. “They are tough, especially with the ability to drive (the lane) and shooting the 3. They had a lot of momentum and we had to stop it.”
East Buchanan got a free throw from Addi Ishmael early in the final quarter to push the lead to five points, but Haylie Schnake hit a 3-pointer with 6 minutes, 11 seconds left that pulled Miller with 33-31.
Later in the quarter, Kingsley hit another trey, this one made it 40-36. A free throw by Richardson with 4:22 to play cut it down to a one-basket game again.
East Buchanan called a timeout on the offensive end. The Bulldogs went inside to standout Gracie Kelsey, who dribbled toward the basket but then kicked it out to Lilly Schilling, who hit a 3-pointer to make it 43-37.
“We had a good opportunity but we didn’t get a stop,” said Wilkerson, who guided Miller to the final four as a player in the 2009-2010 season. “In the third quarter we had good momentum. We hit some shots that we didn’t in the first half but they hit some 3s in the fourth and it killed us.”
Miller two more chances to get back in the game. It missed the front end of a 1-and-1 one free throw with 3:53 to go and with 2:59 to play, Claudia Hadlock scored a basket, the final of her team-high 13 points.
On the next possession, Kelsey made a basket at the other end, drew a foul and then hit a free throw to make it 46-39. That was the start of an 8-0 run for the Bulldogs.
The loss snapped a seven-game winning streak for Miller, the second such streak of the season. Miller also won six in a row earlier in the season.
“We fought back and we tried our best … it sucks getting here and losing,” Wilkerson said. “Our girls are young and they aren’t done yet. I know we will be fine. We had an outstanding season. I know they will compete every single year and we will get better.”
The matchup was the second of the season for the two state-ranked teams. East Buchanan won 53-45 on Feb. 8 at a game in Springfield.
Now, the Bulldogs return to Springfield and draw Oran in the semifinals on Friday. Oran knocked off defending state champion Thayer in another quarterfinal game.
“Our goal was to get to Springfield,” Elms said. “Now, we need a new goal.”