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STATE HOOPS: Carl Junction falls short in title game, stellar season ends with runner-up finish

Jason Peake

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Carl Junction’s quest for its first-ever state championship fell just short.

The Bulldogs had their chances late, but Lutheran St. Charles made more winning plays down the stretch on the way to a hard-fought 44-39 victory in the championship game of the Class 5 Show-Me Showdown on Saturday night inside Great Southern Bank Arena. 

“I thought our kids played hard until the end,” Carl Junction coach Brad Shorter said. “We gave ourselves a chance there late, but it just didn’t go our way. You tip your hat to a team like that. They’re a good ballclub… That’s a tough one. I’m really proud of my girls. What happened tonight doesn’t define us. It’s tough right now, but it was a fun season. It stings right now, but what we did as a team will last forever.”

The state title game was close all the way. 

Up 15-13 at halftime, the Bulldogs built a seven-point lead in the third period before the Cougars used a 10-0 burst to pull ahead.

Members of the Carl Junction Bulldogs react to falling short in the Class 5 Show-Me Showdown state championship game against Lutheran St. Charles on Saturday, March 18, 2023, at Great Southern Bank Arena in Springfield. All photos by Michael Gulledge/Special to SoMo Sports.

Carl Junction trailed by six with just over a minute to play, but the Bulldogs reeled off six straight points with a spirited rally to tie the game at 39 with 40 seconds to play.

Lutheran took the lead for good on a layup from Kennedy Stowers.

Next, in a key moment, Carl Junction senior standout Destiny Buerge was called for an offensive foul with 25 seconds left, her fifth foul of the night. 

Still, the Cougars turned the ball over with 15 seconds left. After a timeout, and trailing by two, Carl Junction was unable to get a potential game-tying shot up, as the Bulldogs turned the ball over on an out of bounds play.

The Cougars made 3-of-4 free throws late for the final margin.

“Carl Junction hasn’t won a state championship, so that’s what we really wanted to do,” Coach Shorter said. “As tough as 2020 was, this is probably even tougher. We were right there on the verge of winning a state championship. But it’s just a basketball game. Our kids showed a lot of toughness and a lot of grit, and I know they’re going to be very successful in whatever they do. I’ll always remember that they were resilient. They kept fighting. I’m very proud of them.”



Carl Junction’s Destiny Buerge (23) puts up a shot during the Class 5 Show-Me Showdown state championship game against Lutheran St. Charles on Saturday in Springfield.

Carl Junction ends a remarkable season with a record of 30-2. 

The Bulldogs set a school record for wins, captured a district championship for the eighth straight season and brought home the runner-up plaque, tying the program’s best-ever finish at state.

Playing their final game for the Bulldogs were seniors Buerge, Hali Shorter, Klohe Burk and Allie Wrestler.

“I appreciate what they’ve done all season long and for the last four years,” Coach Shorter said of his seniors. “They’ve been fabulous. They’re a terrific group of kids…very respectful, very classy and just great kids. And I got to be with my daughter for two more hours every day. So, no regrets.”

Carl Junction was in the Final Four for the fourth time in seven years. The Bulldogs also finished second in 2018.

“I can’t even explain how amazing this team is,” Hali Shorter said. “We really love each other. I think we’re crying right now because we lost, but also because it’s over. We’re going to miss seeing each other every day in practice and we’re going to miss spending time with each other on the bus. We’re upset because of how awesome this season has been.” 



Carl Junction’s Kylie Scott (10) looks for a shot during the Class 5 Show-Me Showdown state championship game against Lutheran St. Charles, Saturday, March 18, 2023, at Great Southern Bank Arena in Springfield.

The first quarter was deadlocked at four, with junior forward Kylie Scott scoring Carl Junction’s first two buckets inside.

Carl Junction’s Burk buried a 3-pointer from the right wing to give the Bulldogs a 7-4 advantage heading into the second period.

Also of note, Buerge picked up two fouls in the first period and had to go to the bench. 

The Cougars started the second quarter on a 5-0 run to take a 9-7 lead, but the Bulldogs responded with four straight points, as Buerge scored in transition and Burk converted a steal into a layup.

The game was tied at 13 late in the first half when Buerge connected on a pair of free throws to give the Bulldogs a two-point cushion at intermission, 15-13.

Overall, the first half could be described as a defensive struggle, as neither team shot particularly well in the first 16 minutes. 

Carl Junction went 5-for-18 from the field (28 percent) and Lutheran made just 6-of-24 attempts (25 percent), including 1-of-11 from beyond the arc.



Carl Junction’s Dezi Williams (1) looks to score against Lutheran St. Charles on Saturday at Great Southern Bank Arena in Springfield.

After six straight points from Buerge, the Bulldogs were up 22-18 in the third period.

But the Pittsburg State signee picked up her third and fourth fouls in a short span and went to the bench with 4:46 remaining in the third quarter.

Scott knocked down a 3-pointer from the right wing to put the Bulldogs up seven at 25-18, their biggest lead.

But the Bulldogs wouldn’t score again in the third period, as they struggled with empty possessions.

On the other end, the Cougars finished the third period on a game-changing 10-0 run to take a 28-25 lead into the final frame. Freshman guard Kyrii Franklin scored all 10 points during the spurt.

The Cougars held a six-point lead, 39-33, with 1:30 left in the game, but the Bulldogs weren’t done. 

Sophomore Dezi Williams scored inside after a nice feed from Buerge, Williams grabbed a steal on the full-court press and Buerge made two free throws. Next, Buerge scored on a strong drive through the lane to tie the game at 39 with 40 seconds left on the clock.

“Destiny came back in and got a couple of buckets and she really opens things up for our other kids,” Coach Shorter noted.   

Lutheran’s Stowers got free for her go-ahead layup before Buerge fouled out when she was whistled for pushing off near the top of the key with 25 seconds remaining.

With that, CJ’s floor general and leading scorer was done for the night. It was an unpopular call to the CJ faithful. 

“In a game that physical, that call was a tough one to swallow,” Coach Shorter said. “It was tough. I thought we saw an arm extend the very next time down from them. Destiny is quite a player. You hate for it to come down to something like that. Again, one play didn’t decide the game. But that call certainly changed things. It was frustrating. But that’s not the reason we lost. We missed shots. And they did more than we did.”

With Lutheran clinging to a two-point lead, both teams had empty possessions down the stretch before the Cougars hit their game-sealing charities in the final seconds.

“We had the mindset the whole game that we could win,” Burk said. “The other team wanted it just as bad as we did. But we put our hearts into it tonight.”

In the end, the Cougars were the team celebrating and the Bulldogs were the team left in tears.

“We didn’t have our best game offensively, but we made the plays down the stretch…the hustle plays, the rebounds…to get the win,” Lutheran St. Charles coach Erin Luttschwager said. “Championships are not supposed to be easy. Shots weren’t falling, but we kept focusing on the defensive end and that helped build our confidence. We were doing our job on the defensive end.” 

Carl Junction’s Klohe Burk (2) moves the ball during the Class 5 Show-Me Showdown state championship game against Lutheran St. Charles, Saturday, March 18, 2023, at Great Southern Bank Arena in Springfield.


Carl Junction made 13-of-40 field goal attempts (32.5 percent), including just 2-for-15 on 3-pointers (13 percent). 

“That was a tough game, and it was a tough weekend scoring for us,” Coach Shorter said. “A lot of that had to do with the defense of our opponents and sometimes we just missed shots.”

The Bulldogs went 11-for-18 at the charity stripe.

The program’s all-time leading scorer who had been battling an illness, Buerge compiled 18 points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes of action before fouling out in the finale of her stellar prep career.

The 6-foot-3 Scott recorded another double-double with 12 rebounds and 11 points. She also blocked three shots.

Williams contributed six points and Burk added five points. 

The Cougars went 17-for-47 on field goal attempts (36 percent), with 3-for-19 from long distance (16 percent). Lutheran (27-5) had a slight advantage in rebounds, 35-29.

Six-foot-2 senior forward Megan Aulbert scored 11 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead the Cougars, while Franklin added 10 points and eight boards. Sophomore guard Chloe Reed contributed nine points.

In the Class 5 third-place game, West Plains edged Notre Dame (Cape Girardeau) 42-38.


FULL STATS: MSHSAA 2022-2023 Class 5 Girls Basketball State Tournament Matchup: Carl Junction vs. Lutheran St. Charles


Carl Junction reacts to falling short in the Class 5 Show-Me Showdown state championship game against Lutheran St. Charles, Saturday, March 18, 2023, at Great Southern Bank Arena in Springfield. Carl Junction finished the season with a record of 30-2 and is the Class 5 runner-up.                                 All photos by Michael Gulledge/Special to SoMo Sports.



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