SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The Carl Junction girls basketball team will have an opportunity to make history on Saturday night.
Carl Junction built a nine-point cushion in the second half and held on late for a 37-33 victory over Notre Dame (Cape Girardeau) on Friday night in a semifinal contest of the MSHSAA Class 5 Show-Me Showdown inside the Hammons Student Center.
After a 25th straight win, Carl Junction (30-1) will meet Lutheran St. Charles (26-5) in the state title game at 8 p.m. Saturday inside Great Southern Bank Arena.
“Getting to the state championship game has been a goal all year long for us, so it feels pretty good,” Carl Junction coach Brad Shorter said. “It’s kind of surreal right now, but we still have some work to do. We want to win the thing. Hopefully we can come out and play better tomorrow. We’re certainly going to have to bring the offense tomorrow night.”
Carl Junction High School has never won a state championship in a team sport. On Saturday night, the Bulldogs will attempt to be the first to pull off the feat.
“It would mean everything to us,” senior guard Klohe Burk said when asked about the possibility of winning a state title. “We’ve all put in so much hard work. It’s kind of emotional honestly…we’ve all worked so hard for this.”
“We want to win it for the community, and we want to win it for each other,” senior guard Hali Shorter said. “We have a lot of fun playing basketball together, so more than anything, we just want to win it for each other.”
“It would mean a lot to us because our freshman year we got the season cut off because of covid,” senior guard Destiny Buerge said. “Winning this would mean a lot to them (2020 team) also. We’ve worked hard for every CJ team that has been to this point.”
As far as Friday’s semifinal clash between Bulldogs, Coach Shorter noted his team didn’t have its best performance, but they did enough to survive and advance.
“That’s a really good team and a really physical team we just played,” Shorter said. “They play hard, and we knew they would. Their length bothered us all night long and they did some really nice things. I didn’t feel like our team played particularly well, and a lot of that has to do with them and what they did to us. But we were able to go on a few runs here and there.”
Carl Junction gained some separation by scoring the final seven points of the third period, taking a 34-25 lead heading into the final frame.
“That was big,” Coach Shorter said. “Against a team like that, you’ve got to go on any runs that you can. That was huge. It gave us a little cushion.”
At the same time, Carl Junction never let Notre Dame put together a significant spurt.
“Teams in the Final Four are going to go on runs,” Coach Shorter said. “We had to get after it defensively and stop that from happening. That was a big piece. I thought our kids played tough tonight. They didn’t play particularly well, but we played tough and that’s what we needed to do to get to the championship game.”
Carl Junction didn’t exactly finish strong. In fact, Carl Junction managed just three points in the fourth period, but the Bulldogs never relinquished their lead.
“It feels really awesome, but I think we’re all in shock right now from that game,” Hali Shorter said. “We didn’t play our best, but I think our defense won the game for us tonight. Hopefully tomorrow night our offense can match the defensive intensity we had tonight.”
“It was definitely a physical game,” Buerge added. “They played hard, and they wanted it just as much as we did. They played more physical than we did, but we just had to play through it.”
Both teams got off to a slow start, as neither squad scored in the first four minutes of the contest.
Carl Junction outscored Notre Dame 10-5 in the second half of the opening frame.
Buerge and sophomore forward Dezi Williams scored four points apiece, while junior forward Kylie Scott contributed a hoop in the paint.
Burk knocked down a corner trey early in the second period to give Carl Junction a 13-5 lead, their biggest of the first half, but Notre Dame responded with a pair of treys of their own.
Carl Junction was clinging to a one-point lead when Scott scored back-to-back hoops in the paint for a 20-15 cushion.
After Notre Dame pulled within two late in the half, Scott buried a 3-pointer from the left wing, her ninth point of the half, giving her team a 23-18 halftime advantage.
Carl Junction made 10-of-21 field goal attempts in the first half (48 percent), but went just 2-for-8 from beyond the arc.
Notre Dame shot 30 percent in the first half (6-for-20), including 4-for-9 from 3-point range.
Carl Junction and Notre Dame traded buckets for most of the third period.
Carl Junction separated with their crucial surge at the end of the third frame, as Scott hit a 3-pointer, Buerge scored in transition after a Notre Dame turnover and Williams converted a putback inside for a 34-25 advantage heading into the final frame.
“Getting settled in was important for us,” Coach Shorter said. “Once we did, we did some nice things in the middle quarters.”
Down nine, their biggest deficit of the night, Notre Dame scored the first four points of the fourth quarter. On the other end, Carl Junction turned the ball over on three of four possessions.
However, Carl Junction never surrendered its lead.
Buerge hit one free throw and Scott scored inside after an offensive rebound for a 37-29 cushion.
While Carl Junction struggled with turnovers down the stretch, Notre Dame scored two unanswered hoops to trim the deficit to four with 50 seconds remaining.
Neither team scored the rest of the way, as both squads had empty possessions.
“From two and a half minutes to 17 seconds left we went kind of scatter-brained a little bit,” Coach Shorter said. “We didn’t have the poise we’ve had. Hopefully we can clean up that nonsense we had late.”
Down four, Notre Dame missed a 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining, and Carl Junction controlled the rebound and ran out the clock.
“What a game,” Notre Dame coach Kirk Boeller said. “Two really good basketball teams. I’m so proud of how we attacked. We never backed down from the No. 1 team in the state. Credit to our girls for fighting until that last buzzer went off. We came up short, but I think that was one of the best games we’ve played in a long time.”
NAMES & NUMBERS
Carl Junction made 15-of-39 field goal attempts (39 percent) but went just 3-for-13 on 3-pointers.
The 6-3 Scott led Carl Junction with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting. She also compiled 12 rebounds and six blocked shots.
Coach Shorter noted Scott provided a formidable presence inside.
“Kylie does a terrific job inside,” Coach Shorter said. “She has all year long. Kylie can patrol the middle. She did a really good job of going straight up, contesting shots and getting quite a few blocks or tips. That was a big key in the game tonight.”
Williams also had a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards.
Buerge was limited to seven points, but contributed five steals, five rebounds and three assists.
Burk rounded out the scoring with five points.
Carl Junction had 19 turnovers to Notre Dame’s 15.
Notre Dame made 12-of-47 shots (26 percent), with 6-for-21 from beyond the arc.
Freshman forward Nevaeh Cortez-Lucious led Notre Dame with 12 points and freshman guard Brie Rubel added nine points.
In Friday’s second Class 5 semifinal, Lutheran St. Charles knocked off defending champion West Plains 71-50.
Notre Dame (23-6) will take on West Plains (23-8) for third place at noon on Saturday.
TITLE GAME AWAITS
Carl Junction also played for a state championship in 2018. That year, the Bulldogs fell to Incarnate Word in the Class 4 title game.
On Saturday, Carl Junction’s girls basketball program will get another shot at making history.
“It would mean a lot to us to get our only state title in Carl Junction history,” Coach Shorter said. “It feels good to get back in this game. I’m just proud of these kids.”