Saturday’s Class 3 quarterfinal between Ash Grove and St. James may as well have been Ali v. Foreman part two.
With the Lady Pirates using their size and physicality to lead them to the Elite 8, and the Lady Tigers relying on speed and athleticism, whoever could pull the other team into their game would find itself in Columbia next weekend.
“We knew they were big and physical and we aren’t. We thought if we didn’t come out and be super aggressive right off the bat then they would be pushing us around all night,” said St. James coach Terry Wells.
The full court pressure of the Lady Tigers was able to speed up Ash Grove, forcing turnovers that led to easy baskets on the other end.
Offensively, the Lady Pirates couldn’t buy a first quarter basket, going scoreless until the 3:22 mark in the first quarter.
“We got off to a timid start. It wasn’t a lack of effort or focus. Sometimes this stage can make you do uncharacteristic things. And once we made an uncharacteristic mistake, it multiplied on us. We had 13 turnovers in the first half, and it’s tough to be successful doing that,” said Ash Grove coach Brent Milleson.
However, the resilient Lady Pirates responded to adversity, as they had all year. After falling into an 18-6 hole by the end of the first quarter, Ash Grove was down 22-9 shortly into the second quarter whenever sixth man Halee Cashio got the Lady Pirates going.
“I knew we had to get back in the game somehow, so we needed some momentum. I was hoping my threes would start falling and we could get back in it. They did,” said Cashio.
The junior guard hit a pair of threes, igniting an 11-0 Ash Grove run to pull the Lady Pirates within three. After a Lakin Simmerman buzzer-beating layup, the Lady Pirates trailed by just four at the break, 30-26.
“We were able to get a little traction by going smaller and playing with only one of our traditional forwards. Cashio was able to hit a couple of big baskets. She’s made a career out of that. She really gave us a shot in the arm. Emotionally, we were very upbeat at halftime. For ten minutes we pretty much got our tail kicked but we came into the half only down four. We felt like we had dodged a major bullet,” said Milleson.
Ash Grove continued that run into the second half, scoring the first four points of the quarter on buckets by Simmerman and junior forward Katie Skelton.
But, St. James had an answer.
The Lady Tigers, keyed by sophomore guard Ashlee Marlatt’s fourth of five triples in the game, would score eight unanswered points to push the lead back up to 10.
“Credit goes to St. James; they were able to put together another run. We couldn’t get closer than six. We had the ball down six a couple of times but didn’t make baskets. They’re a very good team, very well coached, and they’ve got some good players. They are very poised, when we made runs at them, they answered it and that’s the sign of a good team,” said Milleson.
The Lady Pirates would get no closer than six points the rest of the way, with every Ash Grove run being answered by a play by Marlatt or senior forward MJ Buschmann, who scored a game-high 25 points.
“They are tough kids. MJ and Ashlee are just tough. Anytime we needed a big bucket, they got us one. Anytime we needed a play on defense, it seemed like they made one. I thought Ashlee played her best game of the year. She’s had a great season so that is really playing something,” said Wells.
Buschmann and Marlatt, who finished with 24, combined to score 49 of St. James 63 points.
Ash Grove received 12 points apiece from Cashio and junior Madi Johnson. The Lady Pirates, who’s 24 wins and district title capped arguably the best seasons in school history, have just one senior on their roster.
“Those kids have a chance to do great things. They need to be proud of the fact they advanced as far as any other girls’ team in the history of Ash Grove and that is a tremendous accomplishment. This one hurts, it hurts badly, but it needs to motivate them in the offseason so if they do get a chance to come back on this stage they’ll be in a position to play better,” said Milleson.
Cashio acknowledges the accomplishment, but knows there is more to be had.
“It will definitely motivate us to go farther than this. Getting here was farther than anyone thought we would get, but we aren’t satisfied,” said Cashio.
For the Lady Tigers, up next is the Class 3 Final Four in Columbia next weekend. St. James will take on Cameron for a berth in the state championship game.
“I know they’re big and strong, but that’s about it. We’ll think about this win, enjoy it for the rest of the night and then tomorrow that alarm will go off and I’ll get back at it,” said Wells.
Thursday’s semifinal will tip off in Mizzou Arena at 5 p.m.
Ash Grove 6-20-9-19 – 54
St. James 18-12-11-22 – 63
Ash Grove: Arico 3, Mauss 6, Johnson 12, Cashio 12, Weinreis 7, Simmerman 9, Skelton 5.
St. James: Uffmann 7, H. Perona 1, Bushmann 25, Marlatt 24, McDowell 2, S. Rinehart 3, Diestelkamp 1.