The Nixa Eagles saw their run in the Missouri Class 5 playoffs come to an abrupt end on Saturday in the quarterfinals at the O'Reilly Event Center on the campus of Drury University as the defending state champion Rock Bridge Bruins pitched a shutout in the first quarter en route to a 50-22 win.
One of the state's most talented teams in any class, Rock Bridge bothered the Eagles with its size, length, and athleticism, switching screens on the perimeter and bottling things up around the basket, forcing Nixa to shoot the ball over the top of its defense. Nixa shot 12.5 percent from the field in the first half and only 22 percent in the contest. Nixa trailed at the end of the first quarter, 18-0.
Nixa (24-6) rallied in the second quarter to outscore the Bruins 8-6, and held Rock Bridge to 27 percent shooting in the first half to remain within shouting distance at half time, 24-8.
But the third quarter was all Rock Bridge as 6-foot-1 sophomore Sophie Cunningham scored 13 of her game high 19 points in the frame. Cunningham hit a 3-pointer on the Bruins' first possession, then hit a three and was fouled for a four-point play on Rock Bridge's next trip, expanding the Rock Bridge lead to 31-8.
"I have been in this thing for so long, there is one team that is going to be happy, and we experienced that in 2009," Nixa head coach Jim Middleton said. "Nobody is going to be happy right now except for who is winning. Ultimately, one team is going to be happy at the end of the year, and we may have played that team tonight."
Rock Bridge has overcome the loss of two key players to injury (Hannah Dressler, who has committed to Drury University and Bre Porter, committed to the University of Missouri) and features University of Missouri commits Cierra Porter (a 6-foot-4 sophomore) and Sophie Cunningham (6-foot-1 sophomore ), as well as 6-foot-1 junior Audrey Holt and 5-foot-11 junior Chayla Cheadle. Among the first players off the Bruins bench were 6-foot-1 junior Kayla Cheadle and 5-foot-11 senior Kennedy Smith (signed with Missouri Baptist).
"We have a lot (of talent) and we are blessed with a lot of length," said Rock Bridge head coach Jill Nagel. "It's not just having it but the kids know how to use it and use it wisely and that is what makes us a strong team, especially tonight."
The Bruins sport five losses this season, but all came to out-of-state teams, including a loss at the prestigous Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, Ariz.
"You've got 5-foot-11 to 6-foot-4 except for one player and they can all switch and cover so much room," said Middleton. "There just isn't a lot of openings, and when it is there, you've got to hope that you get a good look. It is just tough against that team, they are very, very good. They are long and athletic and we threw the ball away uncharastically, but I'll give Rock Bridge some credit for that. They are the defending state champions and the kids fought back, but there just is not a lot of room for mistakes and we just had too many turnovers."
Despite the loss, Middleton said he was proud of the progress the Eagles made throughout the season, transforming from a team that was stuck in the mud shortly after Christmas to a team that won a district title and was one game away from a trip to the Final Four.
"After Christmas we weren't playing real well," Middleton said. "We were here (at Drury) at the Pink and White and I wasn't sure which way we were going to head at that point. Our kids decided they had enough of trying to do things on their own and put it all together after that. I've never had a team that went through two extremes, from one end to other quite like this team has in such a positive manner."
Nixa got nine points from senior guard Jeanna Raper and five each from sophomore guard Toshua Leavitt and Alexis Holt.
Missouri Class 5 quarterfinal
ROCK BRIDGE 50, NIXA 22
on Saturday, at Drury University
Rock Bridge 18 - 6 -18 - 8 — 50
Nixa 0 - 8 - 8 - 6 — 22
Rock Bridge (23-5) — Sophie Cunningham 19, Cierra Porter 8, MaKenzie Skrabal 6, Audrey Holt 2, Chayla Cheadle 11, Kayla Cheadle 0, Kennedy Smith 4.
Nixa (24-6) — Toshua Leavitt 5, Angela Allen 1, Rejeana Raper 9, Alexis Holt 5, Alexandria Sorenson 2.