By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
COLUMBIA, Mo. —
Tears of joy were streaming down the face of Mikaela Burgess.
Who can blame her? The Webb City junior point guard helped the Cardinals earn an appearance in the state championship game by beating Smithville 54-53 in the MSHSAA Class 4 girls semifinals Thursday night at Mizzou Arena.
Webb City advances to face unbeaten Incarnate Word Academy at 4:50 p.m. Saturday for the state championship.
“They started to make that run, and the emotions were just going through me …,” said Burgess, who led the Cardinals with 23 points. “So just to hear that buzzer go off and to look up and see we won. It just kind of hit me, and that emotion did get to me. I just wanted it so bad. I’m happy.”
The joy was all the better since the game seemed to be slipping through the Cardinals’ fingers.
Smithville senior center Abby Waters scored inside to complete a 15-4 run and give the Warriors a 41-39 lead with 6:40 left in the game. It was Smithville’s first lead of the second half.
Webb City coach Brad Shorter called a timeout.
The brief time on the bench seemed to rejuvenate the Cardinals. Burgess, who up until that point hadn’t scored in the second half, recorded eight points over the next three minutes.
Burgess hit a 3-pointer on the possession coming out of the timeout to retake the lead 42-41 with 6:21 left.
“We called one of our set plays to get Mikaela a shot up top,” Shorter said. “It’s a shot she’s been able to hit all year long for us. … (We wanted to) get something different, and it paid off. Mikaela hit a big shot.”
Webb City sophomore Desirea Buerge followed with a jump shot, and Burgess scored on a drive and made another trey to give the Cardinals a 49-45 lead with 3:40 remaining.
“I was struggling,” Burgess said. “I had a few turnovers back to back. I knew I had to step and score, so I just had that mentality.”
However, the Warriors continued to battle and tied the game at 49 when Paige Imhoff hit a pair of free throws with 1:55 left.
“I’m so proud of our girls fighting back,” Smithville coach Trevor Mosby said. “They executed everything we were supposed to do until the last play.”
Webb City junior Megan Heman scored inside to give the Cardinals a 51-49 lead with 1:26 remaining, and Kaitlin Beason hit two free throws for a four-point margin. Smithville’s Maddie Nelson later converted a three-point play to pull within 54-53 with 13 seconds left.
After the Warriors forced a Webb City turnover, they called a timeout to set up a potential game-winning play with 4.8 seconds left.
Smithville wasn’t able to get the play it wanted, and Bethany Pierce’s shot fell short.
“We usually run the play from the other side …” Mosby said. “We basically would have an inside look with Paige (Imhoff) attacking off the right side. She’s not as quite as good with her left, so that wasn’t a good call by me … We didn’t execute the last play well at all.”
Buerge scored 13 points for Webb City, and junior Casey Heger added 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Imhoff led Smithville with 19 points. Neslon scored 15.
Webb City now has its hands full with a Red Knights team that hasn’t been played within single digits since the first game of the season.
Incarnate Word Academy (30-0) reached the finals by beating Dexter 66-25 on Thursday. Incarnate 6-1 sophomore Naphessa Collier recorded 28 points and 16 rebounds.
“It’s kind of David versus Goliath in a way …” Shorter said. “We know it’s a quality program, and Coach (Brent) Humiston does a great job with them. But it’s basketball. Anything can happen. That’s why we play the game. We’re not just going to give them the trophy. I think our kids have a real good shot.”