#5 Ranked Scotland County stops #3 ranked Clopton 59-46 to advance to state playoffs.
If the Lady Tigers felt like the deck was stacked against them in their pursuit of a third straight state playoff berth, it sure didn’t show on Saturday.
SCR-I weathered its third two and a half hour bus trip of the week, turned a deaf ear to complaints about fan seating that further stacked the deck for the host school, and just went to work to beat the #3 ranked team in the state on its home court 59-46 to claim Scotland County’s third straight district title.
The two teams burned through the pre-game jitters that accompany such an epic battle between two top 5 ranked teams in the state. Copton made the first move, as Emily Brune hit back-to-back three pointers to put her team up 8-4.
That’s when Calesse Bair took over. The senior cemented her spot on the all-state team with an epic game. Bair canned a three-pointer, and then stole the inbounds pass and turned it into two more points that put SCR-I on top 9-8. Scotland County would never trail again.
Ashleigh Creek sank a long jumper before Bair connected on a step-back three pointer that ignited the rowdy SCR-I crowd and forced a Clopton timeout with 1:41 left in the opening frame and SCR-I on top 14-8.
A pair of free throws by Bair gave her 12 first period points and extended the lead to 16-8 before Clopton scored on the end to close the first period down by six.
“We were on their court and they had a big crowd, so I knew it was important to come out early and make sure they didn’t have too much to cheer about,” said Bair after the game.
The Lady Hawks opened the second period with a 5-0 run before Maddie Brassfield took the momentum back with a clutch three-pointer.
The second period resembled a prize fight as the two title contenders went toe-to-toe and traded blows.
Cassie Brown came off the bench for the Lady Hawks and contributed six second quarter points that pulled Clopton with one on a pair of occasions.
Abi Feeney hit a long jumper to stem the Clopton run, and then added a free throw before Chelsea Wood scored in the paint. Wood added three free throws to close out the half with SCR-I leading 27-23.
Coach Cory Shultz deployed a modified zone defense in the first half that kept Clopton in check. To counter any halftime adjustments, the SCR-I coaching staff went away from what worked, switching to man-to-man in the third period before finally returning to the zone. It proved to be a coaching masterpiece, as Clopton shot just 19% from behind the arc on the game, making just five of 26 three-pointers as the SCR-I defenders chased the shooters off their spots and allowed very few uncontested looks.
The Lady Tigers went right to work to start the third period. Wood scored on an inbounds play before Bair took over. “Easy” as her teammates call her because of her silky smooth play, made it look just that. She sank back-to-back three-pointers before taking it through three Clopton defenders to scoop in a circus shot that extended the lead to 37-27.
Creek brought the few SCR-I fans that finally had sat down, back to their feet when she drew a charge against Brune, that sent Clopton’s leading scorer to the bench with her fourth foul.
Feeney kept the momentum on SCR-I’s side. She sank a pair of free throws with 23 seconds and then came up with a steal on defense. The senior point guard went coast-to-coast and scored on a tough move to the rim as time expired to leave the Clopton faithful stunned looking up at a 41-27 deficit on the scoreboard.
SCR-I appeared to deliver the knockout blow, opening the fourth period with a 6-0 run to extend the lead to 20. Feeney broke down the defense off the dribble and delivered a gem of a pass to Wood cutting to the hoop for two points. Bair continued her hot shooting with another long step-back jumper before Wood scored in the paint with 5:55 left to play, forcing a Clopton timeout with the score at 47-27.
But the Lady Hawks would not go quietly. Jillian Lockard connected on a three pointer and Clopton forced back-to-back SCR-I turnovers, before Wood was forced to the bench with her fourth foul.
Her replacement, Kaylyn Anders, delivered the two biggest points of her career, sinking two free throws that stemmed the Clopton rally.
“As I was walking to the free throw line I was like, oh my gosh, oh my gosh,” Anders said. “But when I got there I just told myself to take a deep breath, relax and make them.”
That she did, making the lead 49-33.
But despite struggling a bit from the free throw line, Clopton was still able to trim the lead to 49-37 with just over three minutes to play.
That’s when Feeney again did her thing, penetrating through the defense before dishing a pass to the cutting Wood for a key bucket that pushed the lead back to 51-37 with 2:58 on the clock.
But SCR-I gave Clopton hope, missing four straight free throws. Feeney, who had made 14 of 15 free throws in the district opener, missed three straight before finally getting one to go with 1:30 left on the clock to make the score 52-41.
Kaitlynn Kuntz hit her second three-pointer of the Clopton rally to cut the lead to 52-44, but she was forced to the bench with her fifth foul shortly after.
Feeney then went 4-4 at the free throw line before Bair sealed the win with three more free throws as Scotland County went on to the 59-46 win.
The Lady Tigers played an amazingly efficient game on offense, shooting 60% for the contest, while making five of seven three-pointers. The Lady Tigers also shot 72% from the free throw line, making 18 of 25 shots.
Bair led the way, scoring 25 points, making eight of 10 shots, including four of five three-pointers. Wood finished with 15 points and six rebounds as well as two big blocked shots while Feeney ended up with 12 points, making eight of 12 free throws.
Scotland County improved to 25-1 with the win and advanced to sectional play on Wednesday night in Hannibal where the Lady Tigers will face New Haven (20-7), which claimed the District 5 title with a 49-24 win over Elsberry.