By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Three years ago, the Carl Junction Lady Bulldogs felt they had a team capable of winning a state championship.
They never got the chance to prove it.
The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the big school state basketball championships in Missouri, nixing Carl Junction’s title hopes. The Lady Bulldogs hadn’t lost all season.
“We felt like we had a good shot that year,” said coach Brad Shorter of the 2020 squad that finished 28-0 overall. “To get the season taken away by Covid, it hurt. It stings.”
Fast forward three years and the Lady Bulldogs are back at state with a historic championship in their sights once again.
Carl Junction emerged with a hard-fought 37-33 victory over Notre Dame (Cape Girardeau) in Friday night’s Class 5 girls’ Show-Me Showdown semifinals at Hammons Student Center in Springfield.
Junior forward Kylie Scott and sophomore forward Deze Williams each had double-doubles in a game loaded with defense and physical play. Scott led all players with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Williams added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
“Their length was terrific. It bothered us all night long,” Shorter said. “I don’t feel like our team played particularly well. A lot of that has to do with (Notre Dame) and what they did to us.”
The Lady Bulldogs now sit one win away from making school history. Carl Junction has never won a state championship in any team sport.
CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF THE GAME
“It would mean everything to us,” said Carl Junction senior guard Klohe Burk, fighting back tears. “We’ve all put in so much hard work. It’s kind of emotional, honestly.”
Added senior guard Hali Shorter: “Winning this would mean a lot, knowing that we’ve worked so hard for (the 2020 team) and for every CJ team before us.”
The Lady Bulldogs will have their chance to hoist a championship on Saturday night. Carl Junction (30-1 overall) takes on Lutheran St. Charles (26-5 overall) at 8 p.m. at Great Southern Bank Arena in Springfield in the Class 5 championship game.
“We want to win it for (our community), we want to win it for each other,” said Carl Junction senior guard Destiny Buerge. “We have a lot of fun playing basketball together.”
Carl Junction finished as a state runner-up in 2018. The Lady Bulldogs, who start three seniors, have been on the title hunt all season.
“This has been a goal for us all year long, to get to the state championship,” said Coach Shorter. “It’s surreal, but we still have some work left to do. We want to win the thing. We didn’t come to just enjoy it.”
Against Notre Dame on Friday, The Lady Bulldogs led by nine entering the fourth quarter and needed every bit of that advantage down the stretch. Carl Junction scored just three points in the final quarter, although Notre Dame never got within one possession.
“What a game,” said Notre Dame coach Kirk Boeller. “I’m proud of how we came out, attacked and never backed down from the No. 1 team in the state. I’m proud of our girls for fighting until that final buzzer went off.
“Came up short, I know that’s frustrating, but I think that’s one of the best games we’ve played in a long time.”
Carl Junction’s 37 points were a season low. The Lady Bulldogs shot 15-for-39 from the field, including 3-for-13 on 3-point attempts.
“(Notre Dame’s) length really threw us off,” said Buerge, who was battling illness and finished with seven points. “They have their arms up all the time. That’s what we talk about: Don’t keep your hands in your pocket. They definitely did not keep their hands in their pockets.”
Credit CJ’s defense for picking up the slack. Notre Dame shot 12-for-47 from the field overall. Notre Dame’s 33 points were the second-fewest it’s scored all season.
“Our defense definitely won (the game) for us tonight,” Burk said. “Hopefully, Saturday night, our offense can match our defensive intensity.”
Carl Junction 37, Notre Dame (Cape Girardeau) 33
Carl Junction 10 13 11 3 — 37
Notre Dame 5 13 7 8 — 33
Carl Junction (30-1 overall) – Kylie Scott 14, Deze Williams 11, Destiny Buerge 7, Klohe Burk 5
Notre Dame (23-6 overall) – Nevaeh Cortez-Lucious 12, Brie Rubel 9, Anna Garner 8, Tori Rubel 4