The Lady Tigers have picked a heck of a good time to start playing their most balanced basketball of the season. Republic overcame a nine-point first-half deficit, scored 12 consecutive points midway through the second half, and beat Kickapoo for a district title, 57-50 Tuesday night at Nixa. It was the third time in three district games that the supporting cast around senior star Kaemyn Bekemeier took control of the game when it needed to.
“These kids will persevere. They’ll fight through stuff and they’ll battle,” said coach Kris Flood. “We’ve been battle tested, and we’ve been in these things before. It’s a relief to get this one. Sometimes (the district championship game) is the hardest one.”
Tuesday, with Kickapoo’s defense draped all over Bekemeier most of the night, the Lady Tigers used their stingy defense to keep the game close until everybody else started making shots. Republic scored just five points in the first quarter, but still only trailed 11-5 when the quarter ended.
“I thought defensively we played really well. We missed some shots in the first half that normally we would hit,” Flood said. “With the way they were guarding Bekemeier, we had some key players step up and score for us.”
Kickapoo eventually led 21-12 with less than a minute remaining in the first half — but Republic exploded with its first big outburst of the night to make a game of it. Misora Nambara made a three-pointer with 24 seconds to make the score 21-15. Kickapoo could have held the ball for a final shot, but Molly Blades shadowed Kickapoo guard Kya Johnson so tightly it led to a five-second call and a turnover. Then, with seven seconds left, Republic in-bounded to Bekemeier in the back-court. She dribbled around one defender, split two more defenders, took off from her front foot behind the three-point line, leaned forward, and banked in a shot ahead of the buzzer. Instead of trailing by nine points at halftime, Republic trailed by only three, 21-18.
The teams traded baskets early in the third quarter, but with Kickapoo on top 29-25, Republic put together the decisive run of the game. After a free throw by Nambara, Molly Blades splashed in two three-pointers, one from the left corner and the other from the right. That turned a three-point deficit into a three-point lead as the third quarter ended with Republic on top 32-29.
“Finally some stuff started happening and shots started falling, and we were still getting stops. We got that momentum and got the crowd into it, and I think that energized them a little bit,” Flood said of the turnaround.
Blades made an eight-footer in the lane to open the fourth quarter, and Nambara dropped in a trey from the top of the arc to complete the 12-0 run. That put Republic ahead 37-29. The lead eventually reached 12 points on a couple of occasions, and Republic held off a late Kickapoo rally to grab the championship.
Three players scored in double figures, led by Bekemeier’s 19. Nambara finished with 17, including eight points in the fourth quarter. She made five free throws down the stretch to help secure the win. Molly Blades had 11, including the back-to-back threes that sparked the comeback.
Kickapoo ends its season with a 22-7 mark. Republic improves to 26-3 and advances to the state quarterfinals in Bolivar Saturday. The Lady Tigers will meet Raytown at Southwest Baptist University at 7:30 pm. Republic edged Raytown 65-61 in December at Kickapoo’s Stephanie Phillips Classic.
Republic Tiger Sports will carry the game live, with pay-per-view video and free audio.
Score by Quarters
Kickapoo 11 7 8 21 – 50
Republic 5 16 14 25 – 57
Kaemyn Bekemeier 19, Misora Nambara 17, Molly Blades 11, Molly Mason 6, Lauren Chastain 2, Alex Price 2