Lady Tigers Close Out Season with 4th Place Finish in Missouri Class 2
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By Corey Stott
SPRINGFIELD, Mo.- 3/12/21- “We’ve made it this far, so why stop here?” That was the response by junior point guard Hannah Feeney when asked about her team’s chances in the Girls Class 2 Show-Me Showdown. Indeed, that pretty well sums up the way this Scotland County Lady Tigers (22-7) squad has approached the post-season. And while the final outcome was not what the ladies were hoping for, they accepted their fourth-place trophy and medals with their heads held high and smiles a mile wide.
“This is just a really cool experience and it’s really cool to see how it’s bringing the community together and how everyone’s just really excited for us,” observed senior guard Morgan Blessing. “This is a learning experience for all of us, no matter what the outcome is. We’re just having fun playing basketball,” added Feeney.
As they were loading up the bus to head to Springfield, Coach Cory Shultz said that this trip to the Show-Me Showdown was about more than just the games. It was about bringing a community together. “We’ve got such a great community. All year long they’ve followed us around. The crowd gets a little bit bigger with each win, so that’s nice. The amount of signs that people have made and spent money putting up for the girls to encourage them and all the nice things they’ve said we’ve appreciated.” When he looked up and saw the huge crowd of community supporters waiting
to send them off, he grinned and added, “It’s gonna be a pretty cool experience leaving here today.” The Lady Tigers and Scotland County basketball cheerleaders boarded trailers that were decorated in their honor and received a hero’s parade Wednesday morning. The procession was led by a pair of flag-waving motorcycles, followed by fire trucks, the players’ and cheerleaders’ trailers and the decorated school bus that would take them to Springfield with Alan Adams behind the wheel. The entire student body of the school district lined the parking lot to wish the ladies good luck as they paraded by. Throngs of excited elementary students held up signs and screamed well-wishes to their new idols as they departed. Confetti, as well as blue and white balloons, filled the sky as the parade made its way out of the school parking lot.
The scene was repeated along the entire route as the caravan made its way down Highway 15 to Casey’s, then around the courthouse square, then back to Highway 15 for the remaining trip to the Lighthouse of Faith Church, where the ladies dismounted their trailers and boarded the bus for the 5 hours plus trip to Springfield.
All of the hoopla was flattering and impressive, but this team was on a mission, and they were ready to hit the floor for game action. Coach Shultz did his best to prepare his team for what was to come, but you can never quite prepare a team for the feeling they get when they step into a Division 1 basketball arena to compete for the first time.
So how did the ladies react to their first taste of the big time? “Excitement,” Shultz said. “That excitement comes with the nerves too. To be in a big environment like this, the college floor and stuff, what an experience for them.”
With 30 minutes remaining until tip-off, the ladies took the floor for warm-ups. With 15 minutes remaining, and while the ladies were still on the floor warming up, the gates opened to the general public and a sea of blue and white that was matched only by the equally large sea of black and gold began to quickly flood the arena. The looks on the Lady Tigers’ faces glowed with pride and amazement as they watched the arena fill with supporters. The ladies ducked back into their locker room for final instructions, then returned to the floor to a thunder of cheers and were ready to do battle with a tough Wellington-Napoleon (24-3) team that also calls themselves the Lady Tigers.
Wellington-Napoleon controlled the opening tip, but Scotland County got on the board first with a Feeney jump shot at the 6:47 mark of the first quarter. Aayla Humphrey followed that up with a pair of made free-throws, and the Lady Tigers of Scotland County were up 4-0. The Lady Tigers in white took advantage of a pair of layups by Emiley Dial and Alaynna Whitaker to build an 8-7 lead with 2:32 to play in the first quarter. But Ayden Shannon hit a jumper at the 2:14 mark to give the black and gold Lady Tigers a 9-8 lead. A Whitaker free-throw with 22 ticks remaining made it a tie at 9 apiece as the period came to an end.
After a pretty good first quarter, the wheels came off for Scotland County in the second quarter. Wellington-Napoleon made a very concerted effort to take Feeney out of the game by double-teaming her anytime she touched the ball or made a move to the basket. Scotland County struggled to find an offensive flow and missed several point-blank shots in the period. As a result, Wellington-Napoleon scored 16 points while holding Scotland County to only 1 in the entire period, a free-throw by Feeney with 1:00 to play in the half. The game suddenly felt like it had slipped away with Scotland County trailing 25-10 at the half.
“They’re good. We knew they were coming in,” Shultz mused. “Their defense I thought was probably better than what we anticipated and better than what we saw all year. They did a pretty good job playing defense that second quarter. It was pretty rough.” He added, “We only got one bucket to fall and it wasn’t because we weren’t getting shots. It was because we weren’t finishing them and a lot of them were in the lane where we normally finish.”
Shultz said he told his team at halftime that since they’re not a high scoring team that it was probably going to be a pretty tough task to get back in the game. But he told them that what they could do was rebound and play with pride and show everybody why they were here in the first place. “I think we did that in the second half,” Shultz said with pride in his voice.
The start of the third quarter felt like the start of the second, with Scotland County going two and a half minutes without a score, but a Dial 3-pointer broke the drought with 5:37 left in the quarter. The Lady Tigers proceeded to put up another 8 points over the final three minutes of the period and outscored Wellington-Napoleon 11-9 in the quarter.
That was the good news. The bad news was that they still trailed 34-21. In the fourth quarter, both teams put up 13 points. Scotland County was starting to find some points but was never able to shut down Wellington- Napoleon to close the gap. As a result, the Scotland County ladies fell by a final score of 47-34 in the state semi-final. “We’re proud of them,” Shultz said. “We’ll come out Friday and I know we’ll play better.”
Ayden Shannon led all scorers with 20 points. She only went 4 of 20 from the field, but tallied an impressive 10 of 15 from the free-throw line. Scotland County was led by an impressive double-double by Whitaker. She scored 15 points while gobbling up 14 rebounds, 5 on offense and 9 on defense. Feeney had 8 points, Dial scored 7 points, and Humprey and Kylee Stott each had 2 points apiece. Scotland County had 19 turnovers for the game and only shot 23% from the field.
After departing the arena, the Lady Tigers returned to their team hotel for a late supper of delivery pizza and a good night’s rest. They had a 10 AM appointment the next morning with the Blue Eye Lady Bulldogs in a 3rd place contest at the Hammons Student Center.
While the venue was not as large, the crowd was just as loud for this game as they were Thursday night. The early start time and rainy weather outside did nothing to damper the enthusiasm of the team nor the fans.
Scotland County controlled the opening tip and got on the board first with a Blessing put-back of a missed Stott jump shot. Things appeared to be rolling Scotland County’s way. But a mere 15 seconds later, Kyla Warren had the answer with a jump shot of her own, and we were tied at 2 apiece. As the offensive flurry continued, the Lady Bulldogs took advantage of a Scotland County turnover and just 13 seconds after tying the game, Blue Eye took the 5-2 lead off a Riley Arnold 3-pointer. Scotland County would not lead again in this game.
The Lady Bulldogs put together a 7-0 run that was followed shortly thereafter by an 11-0 run. But the Lady Tigers were far from done, and they went off for an 8-2 run of their own to close out the first quarter. However, they found themselves trailing 22-14.
Blue Eye opened the second period with a Gracyn Fairchild 3-pointer to extend the lead to 25-14. The Lady Bulldogs led by as many as 12 at the 7:16 mark. “We came out and played really well in the beginning,” Shultz said. “I don’t know if we got a little tired or a little unfocused there for a minute and let them get a little run on us. I called a timeout and got after them a little bit and they refocused and played pretty well down the stretch.”
Over the next 2:20, Scotland County went on an 8-0 run to get within four with 4:55 left in the second quarter. They then put together another run, this time 7-3, to end the half. Suddenly we had a game, with Blue Eye only leading 33-31.
The trend of starting slow at the beginning of a quarter continued in the third for the Lady Tigers. Blue Eye jumped back out on a 6-0 run to start the period and led 39-31 at the 7:10 mark. But the gritty Lady Tigers answered with a 5-0 run of their own to get within four points at the 4:13 mark. The balance of the third period saw the Lady Tigers stay within two to four points of the Lady Bulldogs. It was 45-43 Blue Eye after three. It felt as though the Lady Tigers would not go away and that they might just pull out yet another huge comeback.
Scotland County got this game within a point at the 7:06 point of the final stanza on a Dial jump shot to make it 46-45. But the turnovers that plagued Scotland County in the first quarter reared their ugly heads again in the fourth quarter. That, along with strong rebounds and hot shooting from the Lady Bulldogs, doomed the Lady Tigers’ comeback effort. Scotland County saw their season end with a 59-52 loss to Blue Eye in the state 3rd place game. They finished the season with a 22-7 record and they brought home an impressive 4th place trophy to proudly display in the glass case at Scotland County R-1 High School for the entire community to admire for years to come. Each player also received a medal to recognize their accomplishment.
Coach Shultz reflected back after the game. “I know that we got it to one at one point and they made a big three in the corner to kind of open it up and a few free-throws there at the end that kind of shut us down. But what a ride! I’m so proud of these kids. They could have given up pretty easily in both games down here and they didn’t. They came back and made it a game. We’re pretty proud of them! It’s sad that it’s over but there aren’t very many teams that get to experience this, so it’s pretty neat!”
Avery Arnold led all scorers with 19 points. Riley Arnold had 13 points and Warren had 14 for the Lady Bulldogs. Emiley Dial led Scotland County with 15 points powered by 4 of 7 from behind the 3-point arc. Stott and Whitaker each finished with 11 points. Whitaker racked up her second consecutive double-double with 10 rebounds (5 offensive and 5 defensive) to go along with her 11 points. Feeney had 6 points and 4 steals, Humphrey scored 3 points, and Blessing, Bradley-Robinson and Abby Doster scored 2 points apiece. Scotland County had 24 turnovers to Blue Eye’s 14. The Lady Tigers shot 42% from the field and 35% from 3-point range.
As the season comes to a close, it means that the team will say goodbye to three graduating seniors in Morgan Blessing, Kilee Bradley-Robinson and Kylee Stott. When asked for his thoughts in regard to those seniors, Shultz became very emotional and a little choked up as he responded. “I’m proud of those senior girls. Kylee Stott’s been a huge part of it. She battled back from a knee injury her sophomore year and to be able to come down here and finish it this way is pretty sweet. Morgan Blessing’s been a pleasant surprise. She’s single-handedly won a few games there in the middle of the season for us. She’s the highest percentage 3-point shooter on the team. Kilee Bradley- Robinson is a kid that is a heck of a leader and one that maybe a coach misses the most because she’s always there pepping the team up and when they come out and have a rough night she’s trying to get them back into it. They’ll be deeply missed. To be able to lead a team to this point says everything about them.”
When the game was over, Shultz was asked if it had sunk in with the ladies just what they had accomplished this season. He replied, “I think it has. We just came out of the locker room with them and talked. Yeah, it’s sad. But we didn’t come down here and get embarrassed by any means. We played two hard-fought games and showed everybody why we’re here. I think it was tears of joy as much as sadness in there.”
Shultz also reflected upon what an amazing trip it had been to the Show-Me Showdown. “It’s a pretty neat experience. Our community is so awesome! They paid for us to go to the aquarium and come down here early and make this the best experience we could. It’s pretty awesome for (the team) and we’re proud of them. We’re proud to be Tigers!” There’s no question that this team made an entire community proud to be Tigers.