90
      Wednesday
      92 / 70
      Thursday
      92 / 69
      Friday
      91 / 70

      What a day

      COLUMBIA --- The Rock Bridge three-peat is complete.

      If you are surprised by this, then you're probably surprised that gas prices are higher today than they were 30 years ago.

      These are what we call no-brainers.

      Because this wasn't a question of if, it was a question of by how much.

      Answer: 17 --- although the lead was 29 with 2 1/2 minutes left.

      The Lady Bruins scored the game's first 10 points in a wire-to-wire 62-45 win over Lee's Summit North in the Class 5 State Championship game Saturday afternoon at Mizzou Arena.

      Rock Bridge becomes just the sixth girls team to win three or more consecutive titles in Missouri history, the first to do it in 20 years.

      "Obviously, we're really proud of our team," Rock Bridge coach Jill Nagel said. "I've said it more than once, it's extremely tough to win "A" state championship, let alone three.

      "What these kids have put together for three years now is just unbelievably special. They're extremely talented, everybody knows that, it's been well-documented. But starting in June with 6 a.m. workouts, these kids came to work every single day.

      "That's why we're a happy bunch right now."

      Here's all you really need to know about this game. After four minutes and 11 seconds, top-ranked Rock Bridge (26-3) led 10-0.

      Ball game.

      "You never want to start a game in the hole like we did," said North head coach Tricia Lillygreen. "I think it was, being as grand of a stage as it is, the size of the squad we were playing against. It can be intimidating.

      "They're not your ordinary high school basketball team."

      No kidding. But there were still 3 1/2 quarters left to play. So when did the Lady Bruins start to feel comfortable?

      "I felt comfortable the whole game," said senior Chayla Cheadle who scored 10 points, one of the team's four players in double-figures. "We always said, as a group, that we're our biggest competition.

      "They (Lee's Summit North, 24-5) competed with us, but they kind of fell apart."

      Rock Bridge led 12-4 after one quarter, 32-14 at the half and 46-24 entering the fourth.

      "I'm extremely happy to send these kids out with another state championship. Only one team in the state gets to do that," Nagel said. "And our seniors, they are the ones who made us go. I'm so proud of them."

      Cheadle is one of seven seniors on the team. Another is Bri Porter, who totaled 12 points and six rebounds.

      But you should know this about the 6-2 Porter --- she missed most of her first three seasons after having no less than three serious knee injuries, three surgeries, three rehabs.

      "I couldn't be happier for this kiddo right here, she's gone through so much, more than any kid should have to go through," said Nagel, fighting back tears as she rested a hand on Porter's shoulder.

      "But she stuck with it and never gave in to anything."

      Said Porter: "That makes it mean so much more, a lot more special and meaningful."

      While winning is nothing new for this program, it's certainly never gets old.

      "A lot of these kids have won three state championships now," Nagel said, "but not this group of 14 players. While you retain some of the same kids each year, it's a different group each year.

      "You don't start from zero, but you don't have to start new. And next year's group will be going for the same trophy, just like this year's group did."

      Don't be surprised if it happens again. The two leading scorers for Rock Bridge on Saturday? Sophie Cunningham, 6-1, had 23 points; Cierra Porter, 6-4 and the younger sister of Bri, added 16.

      They're both juniors.

      By the way, Saturday's average national gas price was $3.52. In 1984, the average was $1.21.

      Surprised?

      III

      OH MY, WAS this good.

      Well, actually, no it wasn't. This was great

      Great athletes, great skills, great dunks, great game.

      And of course, it went to overtime.

      In a game that featured more big plays than Broadway, the CBC Cadets outscored the Hickman Kewpies 11-4 in the final 1:42 of overtime to secure an 86-77 in the Class 5 championship game at Mizzou Arena.

      The was the best game this gym has seen the entire season, at any level ... if you know what I mean.

      "I almost had a heart attack on the sideline; that was one of the more intense games I've ever been in," CBC coach Justin Tatum said. "I have tip my hat to Hickman, they are a really good, well-coached basketball team.

      "They never stopped fighting."

      This was a four-course basketball feast, each dish, each quarter, better than the next. The fifth course ... well, it wasn't all that tasty, at least for the Kewpies.

      "It was a helluva game," said Hickman coach David Johnson, who had obviously been crying during the 30-minute break after the end of the game. "They just happened to make a few more plays than we did.

      "It was fun, a great atmosphere, watching great players ... there was a lot of talent on that floor making play, after play, after play."

      CBC (24-7) didn't trail until the fourth quarter, as the Cadets held leads of 16-12 at the half, 36-32 at the half, and 54-42 after three.

      But ...

      "Those Cardiac Kewpies made a heck of a comeback," Johnson said. "We had the momentum going. Our guys said: 'Hey, we're not going anywhere. We're going to make a run and get back in it.'"

      The Kewpies (27-3), who finished third last year, grabbed their first lead at 62-60 on a score by Chris Clark with 3:19 left. The Cadets tied it on a tough, fall-away 15-footer by 6-8 senior Jordan Barnett 22 seconds later.

      "That was a tough shot," Johnson said. "Jimmy (Whitt) played him the best he could play him, he just made a shot."

      Barnett made a lot of them --- he had staggering totals of 43 points and 20 rebounds. Simply put, he was a man among boys.

      "He wanted it," Tatum said. "My assistant coach kept telling me he needed a break, but I told him, 'Not today.' He wanted to dominate Hickman on the inside, and that's what he did."

      Barnett played all 36 minutes.

      "It was the last game of my high school career, I wasn't going to get tired," said Barnett, who entered the weekend averaging 19 points and eight rebounds. "That's probably one of the best games I've ever been a part of, the best game I've ever played."

      He had, perhaps, the best dunk in the history of Missouri high school basketball in the first half, taking off just in front of the free throw line, soaring higher than a mortal, for a thunderous slam. And he did all of this under the watchful eye of Missouri coach Frank Haith, who had to be salivating.

      Sorry, Frank, Barnett is going to the University of Texas.

      "I'm originally from San Antonio," Barnett said, "and when I went back down there (on a recruiting visit), it just felt like home again. And I've got a step-sister down there and she's got four kids, so it will be a good time to build relationships."

      This is one that got away, Tiger fans.

      The Cadets regained the lead down the stretch, 71-68 with less than 30 seconds left. While Jimmy Whitt and Chris Clark --- who both also played all 36 minutes and scored 29 and 18 points, respectively --- neither took the crucial shot with 28 seconds left.

      That would have been Mason Murray, who had been scoreless and just 0-for-3 from the field. This 3-pointer, however, splashed home.

      "When he got squared and set," Johnson said, "I was calling a timeout before the ball went in the basket, because I knew it was going in."

      It went to OT tied at 71-71, but the Kewpies had six empty trips in seven possessions down the stretch, allowing the Cadets pulled away.

      "It's really disappointing, but we had a great season," said Whitt, a 6-3 sharp-shooting junior. "I'm proud of what we did this season. Only two teams can say that they made it to the Class 5 state championship game, and we're one of them."

      And what a game it was.

      III

      A DREAM YOU'VE CHASED for months, if not years, ended Friday night.

      Saturday afternoon, you had to do it all again.

      Yes, third-place games can be less arousing than yogurt, more mentally challenging than a Rubik's Cube.

      But if you must play the darn thing, you may as well win it.

      Less than 15 hours after an excrutiating triple-overtime, semifinal loss to Republic, the Helias Crusaders bounced back with a 60-53 win over Farmington in the Class 4 third-place game at Mizzou Arena.

      Just one overtime was needed to decide this one, thanks.

      "As everybody knows, third-place games can, at times, be tough to play in," Helias coach Josh Buffington said. "Just from a mental standpoint, especially for our team, coming off such an emotional game last night.

      "I was so proud of our guys all weekend; it's just a tremendous group of guys, and we really responded today."

      Helias (23-8) didn't respond very well in the first quarter, going 3-for-12 from the field --- 0-for-5 on 3-pointers --- as Farmington (21-11) built a 10-7 lead.

      The margin was 16-11 midway through the second quarter when the game turned.

      "We settled into the game and started playing with more energy," Buffington. "We had energy early on, but it took us a while to get our mental focus going."

      The Crusaders put together an 18-0 burst, scoring the last 10 points of the first half to take a 21-16 lead, and the first eight points of the second half to make it 29-16.

      "We were playing great, position defense," Buffington said.

      But ...

      "We've been in this situation a lot lately, it's just hard to hold leads," Buffington said. "And they played really, really well, especially in the fourth quarter."

      The Knights closed within 35-30 entering the fourth, and grabbed a one-point lead with four minutes left. Helias had regained a 46-43 edge with time running out, when D.J. Hardy hit a 3-pointer --- his only 3-point attempt of the game --- with 5 seconds left gave us more bonus basketball.

      And oh, by the way, he banked it in.

      "I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me, not again, not again,'" Helias junior Collin Caywood said.

      Said Buffington: "I thought, 'Here we go again, another overtime.' That was an unbelievable shot he hit. I never thought we were in jeopardy of losing the game, but it could have been another tough overtime loss."

      The Crusaders scored the first six points in OT on a 3-ball by Brock Gerstner --- who scored 12 points --- and three-point play by Isiah Sykes --- who dropped in 16. The latter was set up on a steal and assist by Adam Bax.

      That was basically that, as the Crusaders went on to win by seven.

      "We've battled through close games all year," said Helias junior Hale Hentges, who totaled 11 points and seven rebounds. "I think it was really important to put the exclamation point on the season and go out with a bang."

      It sure beats going out with a whimper. More to the point, kudos for this effort after Friday's night painful, dream-ending loss.

      "After that game, we focused on the positive, what a great high school basketball game that was," Buffington said. "I've been coaching for 13 years, three as an assistant, 10 as a head coach, and I've had a lot of teams that would go to war and battle for us.

      "But I don't know if I've ever had a team battle as hard as they did (Friday night). It didn't go our way, but we gave a state-championship effort."

      They did indeed.

      What a day.