Chandler Prater hesitated initially, a quick pump fake to test the defense’s whereabouts. But nobody budged. So Prater, a North Kansas City senior, squatted into her shooting stance and released a corner three-pointer.
Prater buried three of them in the opening quarter, the impetus in North Kansas City’s first state championship in school history. North KC defeated Jefferson City 43-34 in the Missouri Class 5 title game Saturday at JQH Arena in Springfield.
Prater, the reigning DiRenna Award winner as the top player in Kansas City, scored 23 points, including 12 in the first quarter. She made four threes.
“I’ve never done that before,” Prater said of her first quarter trio of threes. “That felt really good. I just came in with the confidence and the mindset that if I’m feeling it and the defense gives it to me, I’m gonna take it.”
And her best work might have come on the other end of the floor, where she relinquished 4 inches in a post matchup. That was the underlying tone of North Kansas City’s victory. Sure, it got off to a red-hot start on the offensive end, jumping out to a 15-1 lead. But Jefferson City held a distinct size advantage at all three front-court positions, and it mattered none.
The Hornets’ defense was active, stingy and simply overwhelming. Just as it has been all season. Only three of 31 opponents scored more than 43 points against it this season.
“I think we all just had that dog mentality, like, ‘You’re not gonna score on us,’” said senior LaJahda Boyland, who scored nine points.
And for the most part, that was accurate.
Jefferson City scored the game’s opening point from the free-throw line, but it didn’t make its first field goal until 40 seconds remained in the first quarter. It was unable to feed its post players, with North Kansas City sagging off shooters in favor of double teams.
“I think that was kind of a typical game for us as far as uglying it up on the defensive end,” North Kansas City coach Jeff Lacy said. “Our girls came out with some grit tonight. They came out knowing they could win this game. I think that was big. Jeff City kind of has had that aura about them all year long. I think the fact our girls came out knowing they could win that game, that played a big part.”
North Kansas City (29-2) fit a 15-0 run into the first quarter, showing little signs of nerves in its first ever appearance in the state title game. Prater, who has signed with Kansas, caught fire against a Jefferson City zone defense. She scored 10 points in the initial six minutes.
It’s a game for which she’s long waited. In her four years as a starter, the Hornets won three district championships. But they consistently fell shy of reaching the program’s first Final Four.
This year, it finally clicked.
Two wins further, even.
“It feels like it was meant to be,” Prater said. “All the girls know this is something we’ve been thinking about all year. It’s always been in the back of our minds. Getting so close each year, it just shows that we looked back on those years and took them as motivation.”