SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The West County girls basketball team stifled dangerous South Shelby throughout a stellar defensive effort in the first half on Thursday afternoon.
But three consecutive 3-pointers awakened the Lady Birds, who embarked upon a spirited 15-2 run in the third quarter and vaulted into the Class 3 state championship game.
South Shelby shot 52 percent after halftime to overcome a miserable start, and topped West County 45-31 in the 2022 MSHSAA Show-Me Showdown at JQH Arena.
Junior guard Miranda Patterson compiled 20 points with seven rebounds, and fueled the extreme reversal of fortunes at both ends of the court following a crucial adjustment.
“I figured once the adrenaline kicked in that I would be fine. And then in the first half, we weren’t shooting that well, so I’m thinking, ‘What do I need to fix?” Patterson said. “It turned out to be my elbow. So I got my elbow in and hit some shots.”
South Shelby (25-4) picked up 10 points from freshman forward Belle Roush plus three steals by Kaylee Gaines, and will face El Dorado Springs for the state title on Friday afternoon.
“I challenged the girls at halftime. There haven’t been a lot of games this year where I had to do that,” South Shelby head coach Luke O’Laughlin said. “This was one of those games, and boy, didn’t they do a heck of a job responding.”
West County (24-5) arrived in Springfield boasting a defense that held nine consecutive opponents to 40 points or less, and was seemingly a lock to extend that impressive streak.
The Lady Bulldogs carried a 17-9 halftime lead after altering numerous shots just enough to coax narrow misses and frustrate the Lady Birds.
“Both defensively and offensively, I thought we were pretty good in the first half,” West County coach Bobby Simily said. “Things just got away from us a little bit, and we couldn’t stop the momentum. They shot the ball extremely well in the second half. After watching them, I knew they were capable of it.”
Junior guard Lilly James continued her recent efficiency from long range, knocking down 3-of-4 chances for nine points to highlight West County.
Bailey Skiles claimed a game-high nine rebounds along with six points, and Alexis Hedgcorth collected seven rebounds in defeat.
The Lady Bulldogs held South Shelby to a remarkably futile 3-of-25 field goals in the first half – 12 percent – and initially capitalized in transition.
Gracie Wright beat the opposing guards on two fast breaks to earn four consecutive made free throws – one sequence stemming from a James block and Skiles outlet – and West County produced an 11-2 surge spanning 6 ½ patient minutes.
“One of our strengths is our athleticism,” Coach Simily said. “With the way our big girls run the floor and our wings get out wide, I thought we had a chance to get some transition baskets.”
But the pace increased once the teams returned from the locker room, and South Shelby seized control by forcing eight of 22 total turnovers by West County in the third quarter.
Patterson connected twice from the perimeter after getting two defensive stops, then found an open Emma Dovin for a swish from the left corner.
A driving layup from Patterson, who only became more assertive with each positive result, put South Shelby ahead to stay at 20-19. Roush cashed in an errant pass for a streaking layup moments later.
“Our defense kept us in it. We were OK with giving up 17 points in the first half,” O’Laughlin said. “We’ve had to win ugly several times this year, and we knew this would be one of those days because West County is so solid defensively.”
West County started the final period still within striking distance at 26-22, thanks to a rare 3-point shot by senior forward Claire Stevens that found the mark as time expired.
The intensity and execution from South Shelby never relented, however. Mill Mozee-Williams hit a key putback for her lone points among seven to begin a clinching 10-0 push.
The Lady Birds established a 36-22 advantage after Patterson curled around a screen to finish at the rim and drilled her fourth and final 3-pointer on their next possession.
“I thought they were the best perimeter shooting team that we faced all year. A lot of that goes into their point guard being such a great player,” Coach Simily said. “They really spread you out, and she can put the ball on the floor and make a play either for herself, being able to score at the rim with either hand, or kicking it to the two shooters who sit outside.”
Gaines applied the final 3-point dagger for a team that started off 1-of-10 from beyond the arc. Patterson dribbled away the final 1:20 with a timeout in between as the Lady Bulldogs elected not to prolong the inevitable with late fouls.
West County modestly trimmed the deficit to 40-30 on an interior pass from Alivia Simily to Skiles after James notched her second and third 3-pointers with less than four minutes to play.
“I’ve just gotten a lot more confident with my shooting,” James said. “Here lately, I just know that when my hands are in position, that I can shoot the ball.”
Alivia Simily engineered a favorable start for the Lady Bulldogs – who were in no hurry to attack – when the paint opened up for a couple of selective drives that created a scoring layup and subsequent trip to the line.
Morgan Simily found room to the basket, and several subsequent missed runners by the Lady Birds left West County holding a 6-4 lead as the first quarter concluded.
South Shelby looked for balance while struggling outside, but was met with resistance as West County defenders aggressively challenged penetration.
“I had some fouls called on me early, but just tried to my job, stand in the lane and stop them as much as I could,” Stevens said. “Our players do a really good job defensively of talking on the floor, switching screens and calling everything out. I think that really helps us.”
The Lady Bulldogs created separation when Alivia Simily delivered two of her five total assists to Morgan Simily on an inbound lob and Skiles on an entry pass.
But their focus shifts to closing an unprecedented season and first trip to the final four with a victory. West County faces Strafford for third place on Friday at 10 a.m.
“This is the first time in school history that we’ve had this opportunity. These are bonus basketball games to me, and that’s kind of what I told the girls,” Coach Simily said. “I know they are disappointed.
“There were some long faces in the locker room. They wanted to play for a state championship just like I did. But we’ve played in a third-place game before, and I thought our effort was really good to beat a really good team [Central] that day.”
West County tightened its rotation to seven players for the semifinal round, and shot 39 percent on 10-of-28 from the field.
“That’s typical for our girls to play that many minutes every night. I’m sure with showing up and playing a state semifinal game, there was a lot of emotion and energy spent in the first three or four minutes,” Coach Simily said. “We looked a little tired in the second half. I knew going into the game that their depth was probably a little bit better than ours.”