In every sense, Lee’s Summit North’s girls basketball team faces a tall task in today’s Class 5 state championship game.
The Broncos’ opponent, top-ranked Columbia Rock Bridge (26-3), is gunning for its third-straight state title and fourth in seven seasons. Its lineup is stocked with big-time college recruits and is, well, big.
“They’re huge, experienced, and experienced in the final four,” said North coach Tricia Lillygren, whose team survived a fourth-quarter rally to beat Eureka 76-70 in Thursday’s semifinals. “It’s a tall task, but we’re going to attack as best we can.”
Since dropping a pair of two-point games to Tennessee schools to open the season, the nationally ranked Bruins (26-3) have suffered just one loss, 40-37 to Class 4 finalist Incarnate Word Academy. The top scorers, 6-foot-1 junior guard Sophie Cunningham (18.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists per game) and 6-4 junior Cierra Porter (8.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg) have given verbal commitments to Missouri.
Chayla Cheadle (8.1 ppg), a 5-11 guard, is bound for Kansas, 6-2 forward Abrianna Porter (7.2 ppg) for Missouri and 6-1 forward Audrey Holt (6.0 ppg) for Missouri State. Off the bench comes Cheadle’s 6-1 twin sister Kayla, a Kansas volleyball recruit.
In Thursday’s 57-46 win over St. Joseph’s Academy in the second semifinal, Cunningham had 19 points and Cierra Porter 12 points and three blocks. The Bruins blocked nine shots and outrebounded St. Joseph’s 38-21.
“They play a very wide zone at times, and they can cover a lot of space,” Lillygren said. “We’re going to do our best to attack the zone like we’ve done in the postseason.”
North, which is gunning for its first state title since the 2002 Claire Coggins-led squad, sliced up Eureka’s man-to-man defense the better part of the three quarters Thursday.
Erica Nelson had 26 points and eight assists for the Broncos, and Southeast Missouri State recruit Imani Johnson had 24 points, nine rebounds and six blocks. North shot nearly 50 percent (24 of 50), assisted on 75 percent of those baskets and shot 20 of 26 on free throws. It led 30-12 in the first half and took a 60-39 lead into the fourth.
“At times we played very well, but of course we didn’t the close game way we wanted to,” Lillygren said. “We had a big third quarter and had a good start.
“That’s to be expected in win-or-go-home situation,” she said of Eureka's press-fueled rally in the fourth.
Regardless, Lillygren knows her team can ill afford anything close to the 20 turnovers it committed against Eureka.
“We need to rebound and take care of the ball,” she said. “We have to be able to keep ourselves in the position we want to, if we’re fortunate to get there.
“If we can share the ball and get it in a lot of different hands and take care of business with our passing, we’ve got a shot with that.”