Licking girls basketball advances to first state championship game

By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)

In the same position a year ago, Licking was wide-eyed and in awe.

The Lady Wildcats weren’t so nervous the second time around.

Licking used a big third quarter and timely free throw shooting to defeat Macon 43-33 in Friday’s Class 3 girls’ Show-Me Showdown semifinals at JQH Arena. Karlee Holland scored a game-high 16 for Licking and teammate Anna Sullins added 12 points.

Licking coach Steve Rissler sensed better vibes around his team all week, especially at Thursday’s practice.

“The whole mood has been different,” Rissler said. “It’s been focused. We were confident we’d win today.”

Licking had other things to think about, too. Such as: Who would receive its allotment of 150 tickets?

On the advice of the Greene County Director of Public Health and Missouri State University, MSHSAA has restricted fan access this weekend to only 150 tickets per school due to Covid-19 (Coronavirus) concerns.

“It was crazy. We had to sit down and figure out who we wanted here the most to watch this big opportunity for us,” Holland said.

Licking faces four-time defending state champion Strafford at noon Saturday at JQH Arena in the Class 3 girls’ state title game. Strafford beat Licking 45-35 at home on Jan. 28.

CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF THE GAME

Licking had never reached the final four until last season, when the Lady Wildcats finished fourth.

Attendance for Saturday’s title game is limited to 150 fans per school.

“(Playing in the finals) is like a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Sullins said.

Friday’s game swung in the third quarter.

Licking fell behind by seven – just like it did to start the game – but answered with a decisive 18-2 run. The Lady Wildcats made four 3-pointers in the third and took a 35-26 lead into the fourth.

“We were in a defense where we helped off a girl a little bit, she hit shots, and we started getting frustrated,’ said Macon coach Richard Driscoll. “That’s probably my fault for designing the defense that way. And you have to give Licking credit: They made three or four open 3s that broke our back.”

From there, Licking burned the clock.

The Lady Wildcats didn’t make a field goal in the fourth until Kylie Taylor’s jumper with 1:28 remaining. But the Lady Wildcats were up for good by then, leading 43-30.

“I told the official at one point, ‘If we get up nine, we’re pulling (the ball) out the entire fourth quarter,’” Rissler said. “That’s just what we do. We do a one-man delay where we give it to Karlee.”

Clutch free throw shooting helped Licking maintain its lead.

The Lady Wildcats made their first six free throw attempts in the fourth quarter. By comparison, Licking had gone 3-for-8 at the line over the first three quarters.

Licking fell behind 7-0 start the game, but forged a 17-all tie by halftime.

“We talked at halftime, ‘We have 16 minutes between us and making history,” Rissler said.

Lexi Miller led Macon (24-5 overall) with 10 points. Macon’s 33 points were a season low.

“We just could not find that next play,” Driscoll said.

Licking 43, Macon 33
Licking 11 6 18 8 — 43
Macon 11 6 9 7 — 33

Licking (25-6 overall) – Karlee Holland 16, Anna Sullins 12, Maci Sparks 7, Abigail Moncrief 4, Kylie Ingram 2, Kylie Taylor 2
Macon (24-5 overall) – Lexi Miller 10, Katelyn Hawkins 9, Shelby Petre 6, Katie Richardson 3, Chezney Smith 3, Tierra Wood 2