In the initial moments after a thrilling victory in the Missouri Class 5 semifinals Friday, Liberty senior Chiarra Franklin talked about the chance to make history. A date Saturday with three-time defending state champion Columbia Rock Bridge seemed to offer a perfect fit for that opportunity.
Instead, the dynasty lives on.
Rock Bridge won its fourth straight Missouri Class 5 girls championship Saturday with a 49-35 victory against Liberty at Mizzou Arena.
It wasn’t quite that lopsided. Well, not until late.
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Rock Bridge, 24-7, outscored Liberty 17-5 in the fourth quarter, halting the Blue Jays’ 12-game winning streak and avenging a midseason loss.
“It’s not going to make us feel better tomorrow, but we have to know we put up a heck of a fight, and we put up a heck of a fight all season,” Liberty coach Noah Simpson said.
That season featured a late-January victory against Rock Bridge.
The difference in the rematch was quite simple — Rock Bridge star forward Cierra Porter. Porter, a Missouri recruit, sat out the first meeting because of an injury, but she looked healthy Saturday — especially late.
Porter scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a physical game that turned more physical as the game wore on.
“In the fourth quarter, they just pounded it inside. I wasn’t able to stop it,” said Franklin, who was giving up 8 inches in height in a matchup with Porter. “As much as my teammates helped, we just couldn’t stop it. I think that was the game-changer. They kept getting it inside, and we couldn’t get our shots to fall.”
Porter had some help, too. Fellow Missouri recruit Sophie Cunningham led Rock Bridge with 13 points, adding six assists and six rebounds. Carly Offerdahl and Bri Ellis each scored nine.
Liberty, 27-4, couldn’t find an answer on the offensive end. The Bruins centered their defense around slowing down Liberty leading scorer Morgan Fleming, who had 20 points in a semifinal win against Parkway North a day earlier. Fleming fought double teams for most of the game and was held to seven points Saturday. She attempted only seven shots.
Franklin and Sydney Offield led Liberty with eight points each, and the Blue Jays couldn’t muster enough offense to maintain their 22-18 halftime advantage. They scored only 13 points after the break, shooting 29.4 percent, including one of eight from three-point range.
Franklin, whose game-winning layup in the semifinals landed Liberty a spot in the championship game, fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
The lone senior starter on the team, Franklin huddled with her teammates after receiving the second-place trophy on Saturday. She later said she encouraged them to win a state championship next season.
A goal the Blue Jays came up one game short of completing Saturday.
“As a coach, it absolutely kills me to go through that with these kids,” Simpson said. “We set our goals extremely high. We convinced ourselves that a state championship was in order. We fell short. But we’re definitely going to be back.”