Erica Nelson made a big early gamble pay off for Lee’s Summit North girls coach Tricia Lillygren, and Nelson and her Bronco teammates stifled a potent Truman attack for 3 1/2 quarters.
Then, as the Patriots made a desperate rally in the fourth, Nelson’s calm stroke at the free throw line allowed the Broncos to hold on for a 55-53 win over the second-ranked Patriots in the Class 5 sectionals Wednesday night at the Independence Events Center.
After surviving a first quarter in which it shot 2 of 15 but trailed just 9-4, North (22-5) beat Truman (25-2) for the first time in six tries spanning a few seasons and earned a 1 p.m. Saturday date with North Kansas City in the state quarterfinals back at the IEC.
“Our defense was the only thing that kept us in the ballgame the first quarter,” Lillygren said, “and our defense sustained long enough for our offense to catch up.”
A big reason the offense caught up was Nelson, the Broncos’ senior point guard who played the balance of the first half despite picking up her second foul less than four minutes into the game.
“We rolled the dice,” Lillygren said. “We trusted the senior to make good decisions from there on out. We needed her to be the floor general, and it worked out. She’s probably the best passer we’ve had in our program.”
“I think they showed their faith in me,” said Nelson, who finished with 17 points, seven assists and four rebounds. “Both were silly fouls – I should’ve let her have the layup – but I put them at the line and they made just one, so it worked out. You just have to have the mindset ‘No more fouls.’”
Nelson hit a 3-pointer to start the second quarter, and she and Imani Johnson had six points each in the period as North carried a 21-18 lead into halftime.
“Get the jitters out of us,” Nelson said of the team’s biggest adjustment after one quarter. “After that, we started making shots, and the game got easier for us.”
“They match up with us very well,” said Truman coach Steve Cassity, whose team went 50-3 over the past two seasons but didn’t win past the district level. “Lee’s Summit North played excellent defense, they didn’t turn the ball over and they free throw’d us – all the things you need to do to win.
“I honestly thought we outplayed them in the first quarter but we didn’t capitalize. We didn’t take advantage in that window of time. We missed some shots tonight that we normally make, but you have to credit Lee’s Summit North. This time of the year, teams will guard you, and you’ve got to make shots under pressure.”
Cassity’s Patriots shot 8 of 31 and trailed 32-30 through three quarters, and Nelson’s driving basket capped an 8-0 run to start the fourth. The margin grew to 45-33 on Johnson’s three-point play with 2:40 left.
Johnson’s technical foul after committing her fifth foul gave Truman some life, as Sydney Paialii converted a three-point play from the initial foul. Senior Abby Hix split the two technical free throws to make it 45-37, but North’s Stevie Anderson got a steal on the ensuing possession. The Patriots then put Nelson at the line for a one-and-one, and she converted both shots with two minutes left.
That started Nelson’s 9-of-10 closing performance at the line, and the Broncos needed those points to keep Truman’s multiple offensive rebounds and senior Becca Jonas’ eight points from making the finish more interesting. After LaChelle Parks split a pair of free throws with 5.4 seconds showing, the Broncos let Hix waltz down the court for a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“We missed some easy baskets – some layups and some free throws,” Jonas said. “It’s hard looking back. We had multiple chances to come back and we couldn’t close the gap. We left everything out there; that’s all you can ask.”
North shot 16 of 27 after the first quarter, and both teams committed just seven turnovers. Johnson matched Nelson’s 15 points and had two blocks, and she and Jaden Powell snared seven rebounds apiece. Anderson chipped in eight, Parks seven and Aaliyah Johnson six.
Jonas, the all-state center bound for Drake University, finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds in her final game at Truman. Fellow senior Hix, who signed with Georgia Southern, hit three treys and added 19 points, but it came on 5-of-15 shooting, as the Patriots finished 15 of 48 from the field and 20 of 32 at the foul line. Sophomore forward Lexi Hart added seven points and six rebounds off the bench.
“You look at it, that’s the ballgame right there,” Cassity said of the free throws. “But you can look at a lot of different statistics. Bottom line – we didn’t play well enough to win.”