With the game on the line, the Lady Tigers simply refused to let the season slip away from them. Republic outplayed and out-hustled Columbia Rock Bridge in a 43-40 win the state quarterfinals Saturday, earning a trip to the Final Four in Springfield next weekend.
“I’m just proud of them. They’ve worked hard,” said coach Kris Flood, who is taking his third team to State. “They’ve bought into everything we’re trying to do. Sometimes we’re undersized, and we’ve kind of figured out what we need to do and (fought) through it.”
The first half of Saturday’s quarterfinal was similar to the state sectional against Kickapoo––another opponent with much taller players who dominated the first quarter. After one period Saturday, Rock Bridge led 17-8. The Bruins got several points on second-chance baskets after missed shots and offensive rebounds. But like Wednesday’s sectional, Republic locked down its defense in the second quarter, holding Rock Bridge to four points and cutting the Bruins’ lead to 21-19 at halftime.
“They don’t ever give up,” Flood said of his players. “We had kind of a rough first quarter, and I attribute that to nerves. We looked a little tight. But once we made some adjustments, we were able to get some things out of the press and get some easy baskets.”
Rock Bridge’s young team had trouble against Republic’s quickness. The difference in the second quarter was that Republic made some shots to give it an opportunity to set up the press. Clara Fronabarger scored seven of her game-high 17 points in that quarter to help Republic climb back into the game.
Savana Powell-Goodman came off the bench to give the Lady Tigers a spark on both ends of the court, as well. She scored 12 points and held her own down low against Rock Bridge’s much taller lineup. Her rebounding and defense played a key role in Republic’s success, especially in the third quarter as Powell-Goodman scored five of her points and the Lady Tigers took the lead for the first time since the opening minutes.
As the fourth quarter began, Republic led 34-33, but the game was just beginning to heat up. Sanaa’ St. Andre made a three-pointer to give Rock Bridge a 36-34 lead, and Rock Bridge followed that up with two free throws to extend its lead to four points, 38-34.
Halli Bartelsmeyer responded with an 18-foot jumper on Republic’s next possession, cutting the lead to two points. A steal by Jade Kirby and a dish across the lane resulted in a Fronabarger layup, and the score was tied 38-38. Republic got a defensive stop and took the lead on a layup by Powell-Goodman, courtesy of a nifty assist by Jade Kirby.
Rock Bridge missed a layup on its next possession and Fronabarger made one of two free throws to give Republic a 41-40 lead. After she missed the second free throw, though, Bartelsmeyer reached in to force a held ball, and Republic got the ball back. The Lady Tigers missed the front end of a one-and-one, but at the other end, Rock Bridge missed two free throws when it could have taken the lead.
After another free throw miss by the Lady Tigers, Fronabarger made the play of the game with less than ten seconds left. Rock Bridge tried to beat Republic’s defense for a fast-break basket that would have won the game, but Fronabarger closed a gap of about 20 feet to intercept the pass and snuff out the Bruins’ last opportunity. She made her first free throw, but missed her second, and with Republic leading 42-40, it was Delaney Smith’s turn to step up.
Smith worked her way into position to take the ball away on the rebound with 1.7 seconds remaining, and from there, the Lady Tigers made one more free throw and ran out the clock.
(See post-game show for player comments about the victory.)
In the end, if was Republic’s defense––and its hustle and rebounding against another bigger opponent–that made the difference.
“We got stops when we needed it, and here we are. We’ve got an opportunity to really make this a special year. I want the kids to relax and just have some fun for this week,” Flood said.
It’s the program’s fifth trip to the state semifinals, and the third under coach Kris Flood. The last time Republic went to State was the state championship year of 2012.
It’s also perhaps the program’s most unexpected trip to State. The Lady Tigers started the season 5-5, lost starter Avylina Powell-Qualo at the Pink & White Tournament, and still somehow managed to turn things around after Christmas break.
“These kids, they deserve it. They’ve gone through quite a bit. You look back to that Thanksgiving weekend in Kansas City, and who would have thought?,” Flood remembered after the game. “There were some games I didn’t know if we were going to score over 40. But I thought… we could play some defense, and they’ve put their hat on that.”
Republic improves to 22-8. They’re 17-3 over their last 20 games. The Lady Tigers play North Kansas City (27-2) in the state semifinals Friday at 1:45 at Hammons Student Center in Springfield. North Kansas City beat Lee’s Summit West 45-40 in its quarterfinal game Saturday evening.
Clara Fronabarger 17, Savana Powell-Goodman 12, Delaney Smith 6, Halli Bartelsmeyer 6, Jade Kirby 2
Farr Better Player of the Game
Sophomores Clara Fronabarger and Savana Powell-Goodman made big play after big play in the biggest game of their careers. They combined for 29 of Republic’s 43 points and contributed to Republic’s fantastic defensive effort, and they’re our Farr Better Players of the Game.
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