Inside a dark tunnel in the interior of Mizzou Arena, Liberty girls coach Noah Simpson walked into a locker room and delivered a prepared speech he hoped he would never use. Not this year, anyway.
In a summary of the speech a few minutes later, he used words such as “legacy,” “fight” and “character” when he described the opportunity that awaits the Blue Jays on Friday.
The opportunity they sought in Columbia — a state championship — slipped away Thursday.
In a hurry.
Springfield Kickapoo erased a halftime deficit and beat Liberty 55-49 in the Missouri Class 5 girls semifinals on Thursday.
Kickapoo used an 18-2 run in the third quarter to turn the game in its favor.
“No doubt we had aspirations of winning the state title, so that was a really tough talk,” Simpson said. “The legacy that will be left by these kids will be shown tomorrow, because these kids are going to come out and fight.”
A year after settling for second place at the state tournament, Liberty, 26-4, will face Francis Howell in the third-place game at 11 a.m. Friday at Mizzou Arena.
A chance for something greater appeared possible — even probable — through one half Thursday. Liberty led 24-21 at halftime after holding Kickapoo without a field goal for a 7-minute stretch in the first quarter.
“I was just glad we were still in the basketball game,” Kickapoo coach Jim Pendergrass said.
Kickapoo took it over after the break. Kickapoo, 28-3, increased the tempo in the second half, an effort led by Jordan Wersinger, who finished with 26 points on 8-of-14 shooting. She iced the game with 30 seconds remaining, when she missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw in a two-point game but grabbed her own rebound and made a layup.
“It was very quick,” Liberty senior Sydney Offield said of the run. “I think the times that we let them get to the basket was when we didn’t communicate.”
Liberty senior Morgan Fleming scored 16 points, with 11 coming after halftime.