When her shot fell through the net — a brief fourth-quarter interlude in one of the roughest shooting days of her career — Lee’s Summit North senior Erica Nelson turned toward nothing in particular and shrugged her shoulders.
“Finally,” she said to herself. “About time.”
The hot streak came. But it was too little and much too late.
Lee’s Summit North traveled to Mizzou Arena in search of its first girls basketball state championship since 2002. Instead, the Columbia Rock Bridge dynasty marches on.
Rock Bridge cruised to its third straight Missouri Class 5 state championship Saturday with a 62-45 victory against Lee’s Summit North.
“Obviously they’re not the typical high school team with the size, abilities and athletes they have,” LS North coach Tricia Lillygren said. “We really had to come down and play our best.”
It started much the opposite.
Rock Bridge, 27-3, never trailed after scoring the first 10 points of the game, using its height and various full- and half-court traps to disrupt a Lee’s Summit North offense that scored 76 points in a semifinal victory against Eureka. Two days later, the Broncos managed only four points in the opening quarter and trailed by double digits the entire second half.
“I think we had it in our hearts we could beat them, but we came out slow. I think a little of that was intimidation,” said Nelson, who needed 16 shots to score 14 points. “I think once we realized we weren’t playing an NBA team, we weren’t playing the Miami Heat, and LeBron James wasn’t on the other side, we just had to stay focused and play Lee’s Summit North basketball.”
That rhythm only came in the final quarter, when LS North scored 21 points — only three shy of its total from the first three quarters combined.
The turnovers certainly didn’t help.
Rock Bridge effectively varied its defensive looks and forced 19 turnovers, including 13 before halftime. It built a 32-14 lead at the break.
“I thought our defense was incredible. I felt like they couldn’t compete against our defense,” Rock Bridge senior Chayla Cheadle said. “We kept switching it up on them so they didn’t know what was coming at them.”
Lee’s Summit North senior Imani Johnson began to figure it out in the second quarter — and she finished with a team-best 18 points — but she was virtually alone in her offensive success. In fact, when Broncos forward Jaden Powell scored on a putback with 1:21 remaining in the third quarter, it was the first Broncos’ field goal made by a player other than Johnson.
Lee’s Summit North shot 29 percent for the game — a statistic the team was quick to credit to Rock Bridge.
“What a phenomenal team they have — very deserving of another state championship,” Lillygren said. “We played, fought and finally toward the end of the second half, we put on the floor what we’re capable of doing. But hats off to Rock Bridge for a very, very well-played game.”