BALLWIN, Mo. – West County girls basketball coach Bobby Simily had to alter his defensive strategy for an intense fourth quarter as his players sustained an unexpected level of exhaustion.
The Lady Bulldogs had their physical limits tested by the combination of an unseasonably humid gym at Parkway West High School with the deceptive speed and spacing of opponent St. Pius.
West County delivered another gritty effort amid the inconvenience on Wednesday night, and achieved a new milestone for its program by winning a state playoff game for the first time.
Junior guards Lilly James and Gracie Wright knocked down crucial 3-pointers during the second half, and a series of late stops preserved a 37-32 victory in the Class 3 sectional round.
“Tip your cap to them and their little guards. The top three girls in that 1-3-1 make it extremely difficult to get into any type of flow offensively, as well as they pressure the basketball. They guarded us for 94 feet, really, and that wears you out,” Simily said.
“We couldn’t press because we were tired. I knew that if we continued trying to press, then it wouldn’t turn out in our favor. We handled it well enough and made just enough plays to win.”
Bailey Skiles netted 10 hard-earned points while patrolling the congested paint, and the Lady Bulldogs finally reached the quarterfinal stage in their fourth all-time attempt.
West County (22-4) overcame 21 turnovers, including 14 in the second half, and will face Woodland (15-11) on Saturday at Farmington Civic Center for a spot in the final four.
“It is honestly the best feeling ever. We have worked so hard for everything,” Skiles said. “I’m really proud of all my teammates. Each and every one of us do our part.”
Freshman guard P.J. Krodinger scored a game-high 13 points for the pesky Lancers, and sank a number of difficult shots on the run while often heavily contested.
St. Pius (16-10) also picked up nine points from Riley Cappozzo, who was locked in an ongoing battle of creative and quick point guards with West County junior Alivia Simily.
Although the Lady Bulldogs faced their lone deficit at 2-0 and responded with a strong first quarter, a rotation of seven players needed every shred of determination and stamina to survive down the stretch.
That concept was nothing new for a squad that limited previous opponent Grandview to just 29 points on Saturday and captured its district title on a driving layup by Simily in the final seconds.
“I feel like it’s been crazy, but we’ve stepped our game up toward the end and got it together,” James said. “We have some really good defensive players who were able to hold them off.”
St. Pius pulled to within 32-30 on a cutting layup by Cappozzo – moments after Skiles was assessed her fourth foul – and missed an opportunity to tie after Olivia Charleville blocked an ensuing shot.
Simily split defenders for a strong finish, and was promptly answered by a runner off the glass from Krodinger that stood as the final field goal made by the Lancers.
James received a pass all alone near the left sideline, and calmly connected with 2:28 remaining to generate the last points of the game.
“It felt awesome,” James said. “I don’t really have a lot of confidence in myself, but right then and there, I knew that I had to make that shot.”
West County regained possession on an errant pass out of bounds, and dodged a transition layup when officials did not blow the whistle on a steal as St. Pius clearly attempted to foul.
Wright, who grabbed six rebounds while matching both James and Simily with seven points, stole a pressured high pass to help seal the outcome.
“We have been good defensively and continued to follow our game plan,” Coach Simily said. “We had an idea of how to guard certain people, and did a good job.”
West County finished the opening stanza with a 3-pointer by Wright after Morgan Simily raced in from the left side to score off one of five assists by Alivia Simily.
Skiles hit a layup inside to start the second, and Alexis Hedgcorth restored a 15-8 lead when her turning shot over a double team crawled over rim and found the mark.
But the Lady Lancers closed to within 17-14 by halftime on a mid-range jumper from Katie Rakers, and Krodinger made it 21-20 by sinking a smooth 10-footer off the dribble.
West County emerged from a five-minute scoring slump as James swished a deep jumper and Wright buried her second 3-pointer at 26-20.
Cappozzo converted a mid-court steal into a layup moments later, but Alivia Simily burst down the lane on the next possession to match her.
“Gracie, Liv and Lilly have to be comfortable shooting from the perimeter. If they get a good look on a reversal pass or dribble kick, then we have to take those,” Coach Simily said. “I saw a lot of confident shots tonight.”
St. Pius conversely finished an empty 0-of-11 from beyond the arc.