Lady Eagles Capture District Championship
Sullivan rode a stellar defensive effort and clutch free throw shooting to a 43-30 victory against Rolla on Friday night in the Class 4 District 9 championship.
The Lady Eagles (24-2) won their third district title in the last four seasons and the first under head coach Jordan Flora.
Defense was the backbone of Sullivan’s success all season long.
Matched up against another rugged defensive team in Rolla, Flora figured the Lady Eagles would be in for a bruising game. Rolla featured three players 6-1 and taller.
“We knew it would be tough,” Flora said. “With their height, we knew it would be a challenge and that we’d have to make them beat us from the outside.
Rolla defeated Sullivan 34-28 in the season opener on November 21. Flora said the difference was opening night jitters.
“We had some jitters and didn’t shoot well, but tonight we came out and made a few shots that got us going,” he said.
Sullivan held Rolla to just 17 points in the second half and kept the Lady Bulldogs off the board for the first four minutes of the fourth quarter.
That allowed the Lady Eagles to take advantage and get to the free throw line, where they found great success.
Sullivan shot 20-for-23 at the line and all but two of their 19 fourth quarter points were free throws.
“Every practice,” said Flora when asked how hard the team had been working on free throws. “We’re trying to shoot 25 or more a practice and get them ready for these situations.”
Mallory Shetley, who scored 23 of Sullivan’s 43 points, was a perfect 9-for-9 at the line.
Kya Harbour scored 13 points and she was 7-for-8.
Rylee Denbow and Hanna Johanning each had three points and Payton Dudley added one.
Rolla was unable to use their size advantage to bully the Lady Eagles, who had a perfect counter-attack.
Sullivan aggressively challenged entry passes to the post, swatting them away or deflecting them. When Rolla did manage to complete a pass, the Lady Eagles immediately sent help. Rolla spent most of the first half struggling just to maintain the ball and committed several turnovers.
“We sagged off and when they threw it in, we doubled up,” Flora said. “If they catch it, they’ll most likely finish.”
Flora said Sullivan did a great job defending Rolla’s shooters.
“Our guards did a great job on them,” he said.
Sullivan led for all but 4 minutes, 20 seconds. They took a 6-4 lead on Harbour’s 3-pointer. Shetley rattled off the final six points of the period, which included a scoop inside, a 3-pointer and a drive with six seconds remaining.
Even when Rolla planted their three bigs in the paint to slow Shetley down she would find her way to the hoop.
Sullivan would double Rolla up 16-8 on another 3-pointer by Harbour early in the second quarter. Rolla held the Lady Eagles to one point in the final six minutes, but their own offense continued to misfire.
Sullivan forced back-to-back turnovers late in the half to maintain a 17-13 lead.
Shetley looked to have completed a shot before the buzzer, but she was whistled for a charging foul as she drove to the basket. It was her third foul.
Denbow opened the second half with a 3, but it was matched by Ellie Rodgers. Rebecca Janke scored inside to pull the Lady ‘Dogs within 20-18 with 3:56 left.
Shetley broke up a five-minute scoring drought with a basket and she had two free throws with 2:10 remaining to put Sullivan up 24-18. Rolla scored with 40 seconds left and trailed 24-20.
The Lady Eagles opened the final period on a 10-0 run, boosted by Shetley’s three-point play with 4:27 to go.
Janke’s put-back with 3:43 was Rolla’s first basket of the period. Rolla would get as close as nine with 53 seconds left, but the Lady Eagles iced them at the free throw line to run away.