LS North girls advance to state championship game

03/22/2014 6:46 PM

03/22/2014 6:46 PM

Lee’s Summit North senior Erica Nelson glanced down toward the three-point line, slid her right foot behind the arc and sized up the defense. Realizing the absence of a hand in her face, Nelson fired.

Swish. A sign of things to come.

Lee’s Summit North made eight three-pointers Thursday, the fuel for a 76-70 victory over Eureka in the Missouri Class 5 semifinals on Thursday. Seeking their first state championship since 2002, the Broncos move on to the title game at 2:40 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena.

Nelson finished with a game-high 26 points Thursday after missing her first five shots.

“Once my first one went down, I think it was going to be a good night,” said Nelson, who contributed four three-pointers on eight attempts. “I like to start off by going to the basket first, but those weren’t falling, so I came out a little bit. I hit the three and I felt more comfortable.”

As a result, the Broncos, 24-5, were also in comfortable position for most of the afternoon inside Mizzou Arena. They built a 30-12 lead midway through the second quarter.

But Eureka, 26-3, made it interesting in the fourth quarter. Behind a frantic full-court press, it opened the final quarter on a 20-4 run and cut the lead to four points with 56 seconds remaining. Jessica Moore paced the comeback effort with 20 points.

But it would draw no closer, with Lee’s Summit North making 20 of 26 free-throw attempts.

“They had a fantastic second half and a set of buckets that almost did us in,” Lee’s Summit North coach Tricia Lillygren said. “We had way too many turnovers, and they forced a lot of those. We’re just happy we were able to overcome it.”

Lee’s Summit North was good enough in the first half to survive the troublesome fourth quarter. It put together a 21-4 run in the opening half that spanned eight minutes.

The Broncos assisted on their first nine baskets — an effort led by Nelson, who finished with eight assists.

“I think that’s just how we play. We’re all unselfish players,” Nelson said. “I think once we start going to the basket, we look for others to be open. That’s how we’ve played all year.”

The Broncos have also consistently relied on top scorer Imani Johnson, who came through once again Thursday. She fell one rebound shy of a double-double with 24 points and nine rebounds. The performance added to her total as the school’s all-time leading scorer.

“This is my last year, and I definitely want to go out with a bang,” Johnson said. “I think we’ve done that so far, and I’d like to finish strong for sure.

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