FARMINGTON – Relentless team defense carried the West County girls throughout two grueling victories in the basketball postseason over the previous week.
The offense finally came back around Saturday, and the determined Lady Bulldogs are final four bound for the first time in program history.
West County never relinquished control of its Class 3 state quarterfinal showdown following a positive start against Woodland, and received notable contributions across the board.
Returning to the same Farmington Civic Center where they opened the season three months ago with a two-point loss to Sikeston, the Lady Bulldogs punched their ticket to Springfield with a 52-32 triumph.
“That was the longest fourth quarter of my coaching career. I can tell you that,” said West County head coach Bobby Simily. “So proud of our kids. They battled, competed and executed the game plan, and were difficult to score against all day.”
His daughter and standout point guard, Alivia Simily, compiled game highs with 16 points and six assists, and directed a more aggressive attack that helped West County sink 18-of-34 free throws.
The Lady Bulldogs unofficially doubled Woodland in total rebounds, getting 11 from sophomore Alexis Hedgcorth off the bench, and modestly raised their shooting percentage to 39 from the field.
West County (24-4) notched its 15th victory in 16 contests, and advanced to face South Shelby (24-4) in a noon semifinal Thursday on the campus of Missouri State University.
None of this would have transpired without a bruising 37-32 sectional win over St. Pius on Wednesday, or the 30-29 district championship escape against Grandview on a last-possession layup by Alivia Simily.
“Our school has never been to the final four in basketball, and knowing that really pushed us today. It’s just awesome getting to do this with my dad,” she said. “We all came out saying ‘No nerves! Just get out there and get to it.’”
Bailey Skiles scored all eight of her points in the first quarter as West County sought to establish an immediate post presence. Her first basket was released while sandwiched between two defenders.
The focus then shifted to the perimeter and guard Lilly James, who by her own admission, had recently been lacking trust in her shot. Her story was much different on Saturday.
James nailed three 3-pointers on her way to scoring 11 before intermission. The second such strike came after Simily drove the baseline and bounced a kickout pass from the paint to her wide-open teammate.
“Today, I had a little more confidence,” said James, who also produced three first-half steals. “When I made that first 3, I was like ‘OK, I’m on it today! I’ve got to keep shooting the ball. You always miss some and make some.”
Alivia Simily opened the second quarter with a driving baseline layup, and Morgan Simily pulled up to drill a 16-foot jumper as the margin gradually ballooned to 21-5.
Their defensive roles were just as prominent in the outcome. Alivia stalled the ability of senior guard Chloe Goodwin to penetrate, while Morgan locked down dangerous threat Addie Johnson.
Freshman Mallary Barks netted seven points to pace the Cardinals and equal Johnson, who was kept without a made field goal until sinking two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
“We were so nervous in the last two games,” Morgan Simily said. “In this game, I felt like we were really prepared. We worked hard in practice and were just excited to play.”
“We knew that [Johnson] was their best shooter, and saw how many she made in their last game,” she added. “Bob told me to keep her contained, and I feel like we did a pretty good job on her.”
West County limited its ninth consecutive opponent to 40 points or less, including three – Farmington, Central and Steelville – that were either ranked or receiving votes in the coaches’ state poll.
Woodland (15-12) shot just 28 percent overall and 3-of-10 from beyond the arc. Johnson coaxed four steals among 18 turnovers by the Lady Bulldogs, but her club could not fully capitalize.
Although Selena Sanford and Goodwin found rare seams to finish strong layups, the Cardinals never drew to within single digits once a triple by Alivia Simily made it 24-11.
Freshman Kaytlen Hartley provided key minutes to protect several West County starters from potential third fouls, and located James in transition for a swished 18-footer and 30-18 halftime edge.
“The last two games were extremely physical, and not much was called a foul,” Bobby Simily said. “Today, I had no qualms with the officiating. I thought those guys did a great job. We got into some foul trouble early, but managed it well enough and were able to keep the bodies out there that we needed.”
The Lady Bulldogs only turned less generous upon returning from the locker room, surrendering a mere four points to Woodland in the third quarter as Morgan Simily collected three big steals.
Lone active senior Claire Stevens commenced the period with a putback, and Gracie Wright broke ahead of the pack to catch a 50-foot outlet from Alivia Simily and score a few minutes later.
“Once we had the lead, we just gained more confidence in ourselves, and were able to take the shots that we don’t normally take without the pressure of having to make them,” Wright said. “The juniors on this team have played together forever. So I think we just have the chemistry that really helps us.”
West County entered the fourth staked to a comfortable 38-22 advantage, and extended it as Wright feathered a pinpoint entry from the high post to Hedgcorth for a basket.
The pace slowed significantly as intended by the Lady Bulldogs, who were soon embracing in celebration after a 7-0 run consisting entirely of free throws answered the second 3-pointer by Johnson.
“I told the girls we just had to stay focused. We still had eight minutes to play, and needed to continue taking care of business, eat up some of the clock and spread them out a little bit,” Bobby Simily said.
Woodland got five points each from Ally Whitener and Caroline Rhodes, both among five departing seniors. Barks pulled down five rebounds.
West County now has two all-time state playoff wins after the program owned none entering the week. The next challenge will involve curbing a South Shelby offense that averages 57 points per game.
“Our girls were feeling the pressure of being the favorite and the expectation level that comes with it. That’s a tough spot to be in,” Bobby Simily said. “When you show up knowing that you’re supposed to win every night and things don’t go your way, it can get away from you in a hurry.”
Girls basketball became the third sport at the school to earn a final four berth, following baseball and softball with multiple trips. Bobby Simily, who also serves as the current head baseball coach, was an assistant for his brother John Simily during a third-place state baseball result in 2017.