Lee’s Summit’s girls basketball team led a charmed life last season as it rolled from sub-.500 to Class 5 runner-up.
This season, so far, hasn’t been so charming.
The Tigers’ one and only returning starter from that team has been hurt since the first game of the season. One girl expected to be a top contributor this season transferred. And a flu bug that spread like wildfire during a trip to Springfield last weekend left the roster even more depleted.
Such was the state of Lee’s Summit’s team as they headed for Raymore-Peculiar and a Suburban Gold Conference game Monday night, a 54-49 overtime loss.
But for most of the game, coach Jessica Crawford could finally see a glimmer of hope for the 1-5 Tigers.
“I’m really proud of my girls for playing without two of my top players,” Crawford said. “We came up short, even though we’re playing short-handed and with a lot of girls who are inexperienced at the varsity level, and they’re really getting better each game.”
Crawford knew this would be an inexperienced team from the beginning.
Five seniors are gone from last year’s 16-14 team, which entered district play 11-13 and didn’t lose again until falling to Kirkwood 43-36 in the Class 5 state championship game. They also lost Amari Conn, a freshman point guard and one of the Tigers’ top reserves last season, after she transferred to Lincoln Prep.
Claire Lock is the lone returning starter. The 5-foot-8 senior guard led the Tigers last year with almost 15 points per game, but Lock, who has signed with UMKC, has been out since suffering a knee injury in the Tigers’ season-opener.
Crawford said Lock should be back for Thursday night’s home game against Blue Springs South. She also hopes to have senior guard Kate Lindstrom, who helped pick up the scoring slack in Lock’s absence, back after battling the flu.
Against Ray-Pec (4-2, 2-0) Crawford had to rely on a mixture of underclassmen reserves and seniors out for the first time.
She could also rely on senior Brooke Benton. A 6-foot-2 post, Benton bothered the Panthers with her size and physicality under the basket as she powered her way to a team-high 13 points and 13 rebounds.
“Brooke’s probably going to be one of the biggest girls on the floor and the strongest,” Crawford said. “She’s been much more of an offensive threat and defensive threat. If there’s a board and a loose ball she’s getting it. She might foul you to get it, but she’s going after it and she plays her heart out.”
Benton scored six points in the first quarter to help Lee’s Summit build a 16-8 lead. Ray-Pec closed the gap in the second, but the Tigers took a 30-27 lead into halftime after Eli Childs heaved a three-pointer at the buzzer.
That would be Lee’s Summit’s last basket until the start of the fourth quarter. The Tigers went 0 of 7 from the field in the third period in falling behind 39-33. Ray-Pec pulled away from a 33-33 tie late in the period with back-to-back three-pointers from Cassie Kruse and Isabela Gardner.
The Tigers never could find an answer for Kruse, who hit a school-record seven threes and finished with 26 points.
“Our inexperience kind of started to show through a little bit in that third quarter,” Crawford said. “But I was really proud of how they bounced back in the fourth quarter. We showed a lot of heart.”
Lee’s Summit battled back to take a 45-43 lead with 1:35 left in regulation on a jumper from the key by freshman Morgan Wiseman, who came off the bench to score 10 points.
Garionna Pearl hit one of two free throws after she was fouled by Benton driving the lane, and Kruse tied the game by making one of two free throws after she was fouled with 4.6 seconds left.
Ray-Pec scored the first basket in overtime, and Kruse sealed the victory with two more three pointers.
Childs finished with 12 points for Lee’s Summit, and sophomore guard Mikeya House also reached double figures with 10 first-half points.\
The Tigers made 11 of 13 free throws and committed only eight turnovers. All of which makes Crawford believe that once the Tigers are healthy and whole again, they could make another charmed run.
“This group has a lot of heart,” Crawford said. “They know they might not have the experience but they come out and work hard every day in practice. I think our best basketball will be at the end, hopefully like last year.”