By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
COLUMBIA, Mo. —
To my knowledge, Webb City coach Brad Shorter hasn’t actually made his players measure the basketball goal at Mizzou Arena to show them it’s only 10 feet high, just like in the Cardinals’ home gymnasium.
However, Shorter is playing up the “Hoosiers” and underdog themes as much as he can.
You see, his Cardinals face unbeaten and nationally ranked Incarnate Word Academy at 4:50 p.m. today for the MSHSAA Class 4 girls state championship, and few outside the Webb City circle expect them to win.
That’s just fine with Shorter and the Cardinals.
“Just that people don’t expect you to win, it makes you want it that much more,” Webb City junior point guard Mikaela Burgess said. “We’ve heard that we have no chance of winning, but that just kind of ignites the fire in us.”
The unranked Cardinals are calling themselves “Team David,” referring to the Bible story when David slayed the giant Goliath.
“We have embraced it,” Shorter said. “We feel like there aren’t very many people who put us in this position. We’re the underdog, and they’re Goliath. So we kind of adapted that ‘Team David’ theme. But not just for the basketball part of it, but also for our faith.”
The Red Knights (30-0) make good teams appear pedestrian, beating their quarterfinal and semifinal opponents by a combined 93 points. They haven’t played a game within 20 points since they beat St. Joseph’s Academy 56-44 on Feb. 9.
Napheesa Collier, a 6-1 sophomore forward, is considered by ESPN as the No. 3 Division I recruit at her position for 2015. She averages about 25 points a game and makes nearly 70 percent of her shots from the field.
Teammates Nakiah Bell, Nia Roth, Sam Calvovich, Carly Frala, McKenna Treece and Gwen Adams all have ESPN profiles.
“It’s going to be a difficult task,” Shorter said. “Incarnate Word has the size. They have the speed. They have the shooters. Realistically, they have it all.”
Shorter and the Cardinals have coveted the underdog role ever since his team fell out of the state rankings during the regular season. Webb City responded by knocking off No. 2 West Plains in sectionals, Sullivan in the quarterfinals and 2012 state runner-up Smithville in the semifinals on Thursday.
Burgess has been the team’s Jimmy Chitwood, leading the Cardinals in scoring the past three games with an average of 19.3 points over that span. Desirea Buerge and Casey Heger have been instrumental in the frontcourt, while Kaitlin Beason, Megan Heman, Lexey Kneib, Peyton Rogers, Asia Bemo and Kenzie Cooper have all played their part in Webb City’s state tournament run.
So you can’t blame Webb City for using “team-first” clichés or references to the “Hoosiers” movie or David and Goliath.
Doing so has the Cardinals one upset away from a state championship.
“Their kids put their shorts on the same way our kids do,” Shorter said. “They’re athletes, and anything can happen. We’ve all seen underdog stories. We’ve all seen upsets. It’s going to be a very difficult task, but I think this is a group that believes and they have the heart and work ethic to do it.”