St. Louis, Mo. (For OzarksSportsZone.com) -- Republic won the Class 4 girls state championship last season and could be poised for another run. Despite playing a much bigger team from Westminster Christian Academy, the Tigers used balanced scoring and excellent ball movement in a convincing 59-40 victory in the Prepcasts Elite Shootout at DeSmet High School.
Republic jumped out to an 8-1 lead, but Westminster answered with a 9-1 run of its own to grab a 10-9 advantage. Despite the inside dominance of Westminster senior Sadie Stipanovich, the Tigers held a 19-17 lead after the first quarter thanks to four 3-pointers. The 6-foot-3 Stipanovich, daughter of 7-foot-tall Wildcats coach Steve Stipanovich, showed why Saint Louis University wanted her. The SLU recruit ended the first quarter with nine points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots. She finished with 19 points, 14 boards and seven blocks.
Republic was able to hold its lead thanks to deadly outside shooting, namely from senior guard Alice Heinzler. She drained a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter and then opened the second quarter with another. As a team, the Tigers converted eight attempts from behind the arc.
“We pushed the ball and shot very good in the first half as a team,” said Heinzler.
The Tigers (10-0) switched from man-to-man defense to a zone between the first two quarters, a move that limited the effectiveness of Stipanovich and 6-2 sophomore Adrienne Horn. Westminster’s other post presence was held to just four points – all from the free throw line. She did have five rebounds and six blocked shots.
“Both of them use their bodies so well, moving around getting blocks without fouling,” Flood said of Stipanovich and Horn. “They do a very good job adjusting, getting twisted where they can get a hand on the ball.”
The most dominating player of the night was Heinzler. She finished with a game-high 22 points and her eight steals were a big reason the Tigers were able to force 21 Westminster turnovers.
“It’s one of the things we try to emphasize, get teams a little more sped up than normal,” said Republic coach Kris Flood. “We lack a little bit of size, but we have to make up for it with our quickness and defensively. Most of the time we do a pretty good job.”
Flood added that Heinzler’s defensive skills are often overlooked. “She does a lot,” Flood said of his team’s leading scorer. “She is just an excellent all-around player.”
While rebounds were essentially even, despite Stipanovich’s 14 rebounds, only three other Westminster players scored from the floor.
Republic had seven players score with solid contributions from senior forward Sarah Kreul (10 points, three rebounds, three steals) and senior guard Alex Botkin (eight points, five rebounds, five assists).
Steve Stipanovich said his team was fatigued, playing its fourth game in as many nights after winning a tournament at Parkway West the night before. He still credited the Tigers for outplaying his girls.
“That’s a solid team,” said Stipanovich, whose Wildcats were without three sick players. “Twenty-one turnovers is not what you want. We were short-handed, but you’ve still got to protect the ball. You eliminate a couple of those and make a few more shots, and we’re in this game. But there are some positives to take from this game. This has been a week of growth for us … Our problems are fixable.”
With five senior starters, three of whom started for last year’s state championship team, Flood thinks Republic has what it takes to defend its title.
“They’ve been in a lot of big games, big situations,” said Flood. “They really stepped up in the playoffs last year and it’s carried over to this year. They have a bull’s eye on their backs and take a lot of pride in that.”
“I’m hoping, but I don’t want to jinx it,” said Heinzler. “If we keep working hard, I think we might make our way back.”
It was a tough weekend for our local teams in Blue Springs.
Both Springfield Catholic and Nixa went 0-for-2 on the weekend, forcing them to settle for fourth place in Class 3 and Class 1 respectively.
CLICK HERE FOR NIXA 3RD PLACE GAME PHOTOS --...
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