Sullivan Claws Back, Jeff City Turns Away Rally
Sullivan fell behind Jefferson City by 16 points late in the third quarter Saturday in the Union Tournament championship, but the Lady Eagles had a run in them.
Ultimately, the Jays were too much to overcome.
Jeff City reversed Sullivan’s gains down the stretch and survived for a 41-31 victory and the tournament title. The Lady Eagles (14-2) were denied a third straight tourney championship.
Sullivan head coach Jason Merkel said Jeff City’s physicality never let them get established.
“Jefferson City is bigger and more physical,” Merkel said. “It took us out of our game plan. We could not score, we could not rebound. When we were trying to set a screen, they would hit us. That was a big problem for us. We just could not generate offense.”
Sullivan had a tough night of shooting from the floor. They were limited to 25 percent overall and just 19 percent from beyond the arc.
Sullivan players were disappointed with the outcome.
“They wanted that game,” Merkel said. “They want to win every game right now, but it’s good to go through some adversity. We’re going to be better for this game.”
The Jays are one of the few teams Sullivan has or will encounter with a distinct size advantage. Merkel said the plan was to sag off and let Jeff City shoot from outside. “We wanted to keep it low scoring,” he said.
Using that size to disrupt Sullivan wasn’t unexpected, Merkel said, especially a team coached by Brad Conway.
Conway, the former girls head coach at St. James and an assistant under Merkel for one year, has a sterling reputation. His teams play gritty and Merkel knew what to expect.
“Brad and I have been friends for 15 years. I know what he’s got going on at Jefferson City,” he said.
Jefferson City was the No. 1 team in Class 5 nearly a year ago when the two teams met for the same tournament championship. Sullivan stunned the Jays, who are unranked this season. Merkel said Jeff City was banged up during the seed meetings, which led to a reversal of the top two seeds.
After knocking off state-ranked Rock Bridge and Waynesville, Sullivan was looking to add another Class 5 opponent, but Jeff City showed the rankings are only mean so much.
“The rankings don’t matter,” Merkel said. “They’re nice. It’s nice for your kids to get the recognition, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter.”
Sullivan took a 3-0 lead early on a 3-pointer by Jones. The Lady Eagles kept Jeff City off the board until the 4 minute, 26 second mark in the first quarter when Sarah Lincthacum scored. Kara Daly then hit a pair of free throws and Jeff City wouldn’t trail again. Jeff City led 13-8 at the end of the first quarter. Greta Haarmann’s 3 opened the scoring in the second. A basket by Clare Shetley represented Sullivan’s only points of the quarter. Jeff City led 20-10 at the break.
The Jays used a 10-4 run to open up a 30-14 lead with 2:17 remaining. A free throw by Mallory Shetley, a 3-pointer by Creek and a fastbreak layup banked in by Clare Shetley with one minute to go, trimming the deficit to 31-20. Jones stole the ball underneath Sullivan’s basket and flipped it in with 30 seconds to go, finally bringing Sullivan within single digits.
The Lady Eagles began the fourth quarter on a 6-0 run. Mallory Shetley had a three-point play with 6:30 remaining and Creek split a pair of free throws a minute later to make it a one possession game, 31-28. Jeff City took control on defense again and kept Sullivan off the board until a 3-pointer by Mallory Shetley in the waning seconds.