By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
WEBB CITY, Mo. —
The Webb City girls basketball team doesn’t have a senior on the roster, but the Cardinals certainly don’t lack leadership.
Headed by a strong junior class, Webb City is in the MSHSAA Class 4 quarterfinals and faces Sullivan at 2:45 p.m. today at Drury University in Springfield, Mo., with a trip to Columbia on the line.
“I feel like the juniors kind of help keep the team up and kind of take over the leadership role,” Webb City sophomore forward Desirea Buerge said. “They’re the ones to keep us up when we need it.”
The Cardinals (23-5) start four juniors — Mikaela Burgess, Megan Heman, Casey Heger and Kaitlin Beason — and Buerge. Off the bench, juniors Asia Bemo and Kenzie Cooper and freshmen Peyton Rogers and Lexey Kneib are among those who have logged valuable minutes.
Webb City coach Brad Shorter said his players benefited from experience gained last year and from competing in a difficult Central Ozark Conference Large Division this season.
“I feel like our kids have done an outstanding job all year long of just playing hard and playing together,” Shorter said. “The experience that we’ve had in our conference and against some very tough teams in our area has really enabled our kids to kind of step up and play like seniors. Just the experience itself has been tremendous for us.”
Burgess, who is the team’s lone player who competed on the Cardinals’ Class 5 third-place team in 2011, said she knew her class would need to take the role of leader a year early.
“Honestly, last year being a sophomore and not having as many upperclassmen, I had to step up a little last year,” she said. “We had great leaders last year, and they kind of got me ready for it. So I was ready to lead the team.”
Burgess, a talented point guard, hit four 3-pointers and scored a game-high 22 points to help the Cardinals beat No. 2-ranked West Plains 57-42 in the sectional round on Wednesday at Ozark High School.
“Mikaela handles the ball,” Shorter said. “She handles the pressure. She moves the ball offensively, and she gets us going. She gets us going with her emotion and her leadership. She kind of puts the fire into this team.”
The Cardinals boast several offensive options to go along with Burgess, however. Burgess, Buerge, Heger and Beason all have had 20-point nights this season.
“We’ve shown we have pieces,” Shorter said. “Mikaela is a huge piece, but we’ve been firing on all cylinders lately. We’ve had a number of kids step up. We’ve got some weapons.”
Buerge was a force inside against West Plains, scoring 18 points. Beason scored a game-high 16 points in the Cardinals’ district championship win over Carthage. The 6-2 Heger has displayed the ability to score inside and outside, as well as serve an asset on the boards. Heman hit key free throws down the stretch against West Plains, while Kneib, Bemo and Rogers each made crucial shots in the victory.
Webb City will need all those players to get past Sullivan (24-4) and advance to the semifinals at Mizzou Arena in Columbia.
“I feel like a lot of people probably didn’t put us in this spot,” Shorter said. “We’ve learned a lot. We’ve grown as a team. We’ve grown athletically. In the game of basketball, I feel like our kids are doing some really nice things at this point of the season.”
The Sullivan Eagles held off Bolivar 51-41 in Wednesday’s sectional to get to this point.
Like Webb City, the Eagles boast some balance in their scoring. Three Sullivan players average double figures, and all five starters have scored at least 10 points in a game.
“We got some pretty athletic kids,” Sullivan coach Jason Merkel said. “They’re pretty scrappy. They find ways to win.
“We’re fairly balanced. We have some nice role players.”
Twins Taylor and Aley Lucas are big inside for the Eagles, while point guard Sierra Pryor sets the tempo.
“We really got to watch out for the Lucas twins,” Shorter said. “They do a nice job of scoring and rebounding. Both of them are about 5-10, play really hard in the post and both can shoot the 3.
“Their point guard Sierra Pryor is very tough. She just makes them go. She pushes the ball and plays hard.”