BONNE TERRE – After suffering its most lopsided loss of the season by 17 points against Ste. Genevieve in mid-January, the Central girls basketball team was hungry for revenge.
The Lady Rebels delivered a stingy defensive effort – especially during the second half – and captured the Class 4, District 2 district title on Thursday night after missing last year's state playoffs.
Sophomore forward Kaley Kimball scored a game-high 17 points, and isolated herself ahead of the pack for back-to-back uncontested layups while helping to clinch a 48-41 victory.
“It’s a great night anytime you can win a district. Those things aren’t given away,” Central coach Josh Mapes said. “Our kids played real well and gutted it out.”
Central (22-4) used an 8-0 run to answer a final charge by Ste. Genevieve (21-6), which narrowly fell short of its first district championship since 1979.
The Dragons were paced by Jennifer Humbolt with 15 points in her final varsity game, while dynamic point guard Maci Reynolds finished with 12.
Defense and patience ruled much of the second half, as the teams combined for just seven made field goals over the last 16 minutes. Ste. Genevieve was unofficially 3-of-22 in that span.
“We had to get back on defense and get stops,” Kimball said. “We just tried to bear down against their best scorers, and take some of their passes and rotations away.”
Kimball pushed Central ahead to stay at 30-29 with a 3-pointer from the right corner. Sophia Horton turned an ensuing offensive rebound into free throws, then induced a five-second violation.
Central sank a perfect 8-of-8 free throws in the fourth quarter. Aubree Eaton made four in a row after the Dragons accrued seven team fouls, and Avery Norris made the margin 40-31 off an inbounds play.
Ste. Genevieve emerged from its slump when Reynolds swished a 3-pointer. Humbolt had a flawless trip to the stripe with 1:34 to draw her squad within 40-38 following a Central double dribble.
The Dragons gambled on full-court pressure, but their comeback bid stalled. Norris found Kimball all alone with a midcourt pass, and Horton assisted on the next basket to restore a six-point spread.
Norris and Horton each provided eight points overall and two free throws to cap the win. Senior Callie Thurston compiled nine points and eight rebounds for the Lady Rebels.
Central will face Notre Dame in a state sectional clash Tuesday at Farmington Civic Center. The Bulldogs ended the eight-year district dominance of Dexter in overtime on Thursday night.
As a testament to the similarity between the Dragons and Lady Rebels, each starting five included three sophomores, one junior and a senior. The contest contained six ties and eight lead changes.
“We knew that Ste. Gen. was a great team,” Mapes said. “They have a bunch of good young players, and they’re going to be great in the future.”
Sydney Bumgardaner was surrounded inside to finish with just two points, but made a defensive impact with six blocks and six rebounds for Ste. Genevieve.
Kimball was a major reason why the Lady Rebels were able to adjust. She knocked down a series of mid-range jumpers from the elbow or baseline during the first half.
Those opportunities developed as Horton was blanketed throughout the game by Ella Reed and limited to two field goals – the same number as Norris.
“In the past, it was hard for me to shoot. I was a little bit timid,” Kimball said. “But as the season has gone along, I have kind of become more aggressive.”
Thurston put Central ahead 9-6 when her 3-point shot danced on the rim and fell through. The lead was fleeting as Reynolds showed her dangerous ability.
Reynolds beat the first-quarter buzzer with a nifty spin move and bank shot in the paint, then gave Ste. Genevieve a 12-11 edge with a steal and layup to begin the second period.
Freshman Abby Moore leaped to catch a high pass near midcourt, and sprang Humbolt for a transition layup on the next pass for a 21-17 advantage.
Kimball later knocked down a tying jumper, and Thurston sank a 17-footer with five seconds left to answer a Bumgardaner basket and square the contest 25-25 at halftime.
Horton grabbed 10 rebounds to lead all players, and Abby Holmes added a couple of blocks while also drawing a charging foul for Central.
Marysa Flieg chipped in seven points for Ste. Genevieve, which won the last meeting 68-51 at home on their way to the first regular-season conference title in program history.