PARK HILLS – The Central girls basketball team was obligated to find new sources of offense this season after three experienced seniors and roughly 65 to 70 percent of its scoring output graduated.
Though sophomore Sophia Horton has emerged as the primary threat, senior Callie Thurston and junior Avery Norris continue to expand their range while still serving as main defenders.
The Lady Rebels recovered from a slow start to dominate the middle quarters on Saturday night, and defeated North County 46-32 to repeat as MAAA Tournament champions.
“We were trying to push the ball a lot, but didn’t get much in transition. But we played good defense, and really held them to just one shot,” Thurston said. “Not many shots fell for us in the first half, but then we started knocking them down and getting the ball into the paint.”
Central (18-3) surrendered only 10 points to the fourth-seeded Lady Raiders during a span of greater than 19 minutes, and controlled the rematch of a wild three-point win from 12 days earlier.
Horton notched game-high honors with 15 points, while Norris contributed 13 and Kaley Kimball tossed in 11 as three Lady Rebels reached double figures.
Junior forward Kayleigh Winch paced North County (12-6) with 12 points and six rebounds, and senior guard Alyssa Huber added nine points.
Ella Gant got and immediate steal and layup to begin the game, and the Lady Raiders jumped in front 9-4 after Julia Christopher found Huber streaking ahead for an uncontested layup.
Central suffered four turnovers within the first five minutes, but pulled even following a Horton 3-point shot and quick catch and release on target by Kimball before the first quarter concluded.
“It took a while to get the game moving faster for us,” Central coach Josh Mapes said. “North County had the ball and passed it around a few times. I thought out kids did a good job of settling in.”
North County momentarily regained a 13-12 edge as Winch gathered a pass to score amid a crowd. She drew the constant attention of Central defense while working for position.
Central capped the first half on a pivotal 10-0 run, and never looked back. Norris and Thurston sank 3-pointers, and Kimball hit from the baseline to make it 22-13 after stealing an entry pass at the other end.
“We got some confidence by making some threes and other outside shots,” Norris said. “On defense, the key was just trying to stop Kayleigh Winch, and making sure to help Callie with pressure.”
Horton began to thrive offensively in the third quarter when a strategic move shifted her to the low post after Gant succeeded at limiting her open looks.
The result was four Horton baskets within a six-minute stretch, and Norris tacked on her second triple near the conclusion of the stanza for a 38-19 separation.
“Sophia is a tough matchup. A guard is usually on her when she’s along the perimeter,” Mapes said. “If they take that away, then she does a really nice job around the basket posting up as well. We try to play to her strengths.”
Huber sparked an 8-0 North County push in the final stanza, forcing in a difficult runner across the lane before trimming the deficit to 40-27 on a driving layup with 2:44 left.
But sophomore Aubree Eaton registered her fourth assist on a feed to Horton, who scored through contact. Two free throws by Norris pushed the margin back to 17.
“Teams know what our offense looks like by now. We’re going into districts in a couple of weeks,” said Thurston, who made 10-of-10 free throws during a semifinal triumph over Potosi. “People know that Sophia shoots the ball well. So I have to look to score, and so does everybody else. I really take pride in that part of [the game].”
A basket by Kamryn Winch and late 3-pointer by Ashlyn Moore of the Lady Raiders represented the only bench scoring for either side.
The teams could meet again in the Class 4, District 2 Tournament, where a debate between Central and Ste. Genevieve for the top seed provides an intriguing storyline.
Ste. Genevieve 44, Potosi 42
PARK HILLS – Freshman forward Abby Moore emerged with a game-high 17 points off the bench, and made 7-of-9 free throws at top seed Ste. Genevieve salvaged third place in the MAAA tournament.
The Dragons earned a large disparity of chances from the line, and withstood a challenge from rising Potosi for a 44-42 victory.
Jennifer Humbolt finished with 10 points, and Sydney Bumgardaner notched eight exclusively on free throws for Large-School champion Ste. Genevieve (17-3).
The contest was tied 32-32 through three quarters. The Dragons were ahead 22-20 at halftime after Potosi (8-13) grabbed an early six-point lead.
Olivia Coleman totaled 10 points while freshman Madeline Bradley and Carley Hampton dropped in eight apiece for the Lady Trojans, who elevated from the No. 6 seed.
West County 66, Arcadia Valley 62
BONNE TERRE – Dori McRaven poured in 18 points, and the West County girls affirmed their position atop the MAAA Small-School division by topping Arcadia Valley for a second straight time.
Cheyenne Young provided 13 points in another tight battle between the rivals, and the Lady Bulldogs prevailed 66-62 in the conference tournament fifth-place game.
West County (19-4) carried a narrow 46-45 advantage into the fourth quarter. Claire LaBruyere had nine points while Madalyn Herrera added eight and Madelyn Whitter chipped in six.
The teams are potentially on course to meet again in the Class 3, District 3 semifinals.
Senior guard Josie Landrum scored a game-high 19 points while sinking five threes for Arcadia Valley (14-8), which was an outstanding 12-of-13 from the line in defeat.
Jaesa Brockes totaled 13 points, Gracee Smith netted 12 and Katie Whited posted 10 as the Lady Tigers landed four players in double figures.
Arcadia Valley headed into halftime with a 32-29 lead.
Valle Catholic 49, Kingston 44
BONNE TERRE – Valle Catholic forced 28 turnovers, and rallied from double digits behind to overtake Kingston 49-44 in the MAAA Tournament girls consolation final.
Hannah Fowler compiled 13 points with 10 rebounds, and the Lady Warriors used a 16-10 scoring edge in the fourth quarter to prevail despite shooting just 30 percent overall.
Mallory Weiler totaled nine points on three perimeter shots plus five steals, and Riley Siebert had seven points, nine rebounds and two blocks in the win.
Valle Catholic (11-11) has steadily improved to reach the .500 mark after starting the season 1-7, but struggled early on Saturday at Kingston (9-14) surged ahead 12-0 right away.
Freshman Madison Nelson erupted for 33 points to power the Lady Cougars, whose 34-33 lead entering the fourth quarter slipped away. She connected on seven 3-pointers.
Ashley Johnston chipped in six points for Kingston.