By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
Only minutes had passed since the game ended in a loss, but a smile never left the face of Webb City coach Brad Shorter.
You see, his Cardinals girls basketball team just pushed the defending Class 4 state champion and undefeated Republic Tigers until the end in a 49-44 loss Thursday night at Webb City.
Instead of dwelling on the loss, Shorter was focusing on what the Cardinals can do to get over the hump.
“This is a good measuring stick,” Shorter said. “We are No. 10 in the state for a reason. I think we got a really good team. But these are the kind of games we need. We hope to see them again. We’ll be better. I think as these kids get older and wiser, they’ll understand what I’m talking about. It will come down to one or two possessions.”
It certainly did on Thursday as a seniorless Webb City (16-4, 0-2 Central Ozark) squad led at the end of each of the first three quarters. The Cardinals opened the fourth quarter with a 34-32 lead, but Republic (18-0, 2-0 COC) opened with a 9-0 run. Webb City fought back to pull within 45-44 with 39.6 seconds remaining.
Senior Alex Botkin scored inside on the Tigers’ next possession to extend the lead to 47-44. Republic then forced a Webb City turnover, and senior Alice Heinzler hit two free throws to seal the win.
Republic was 11-for-11 on free throws.
“A couple of possessions,” Shorter said. “A couple turnovers too many. Maybe not enough rebounds. That’s what we talked about all week, that it was going to come down to a couple of possessions. We led after every quarter, and that was big for us. But we just got to be able to play for a whole game, take care of the basketball and rebound it. We hope we get another shot at them.”
The Tigers are unbeaten for a reason. Republic brought back a lot of experience from last year’s state title team. Heinzler, who led all scorers with 24 points, hit three 3-pointers and was 4-for-4 from the line. Botkin, who scored 13, and Lindsey Carlson were key inside.
“They are a senior-laden team,” Shorter said. “They have five seniors who start for them. They are well coached. We expected everything we saw out of them. I was really proud of our kids. They played really hard. For a bunch of youngsters, I’m really proud of them. We just have to go back to work tomorrow.”
Casey Heger, 6-foot-2 junior, led the Cardinals with 14 points, including three deep jump shots with her foot on the line in the first half. Sophomore Desirea Buerge was key inside with 13 points.
“I was just proud of the kids, because we really hadn’t really been in a game where it came down to the last two minutes,” Republic coach Kris Flood said. “That’s really the first time we faced that, and I was proud of how our kids responded. I knew this one was going to be tough. It was a great game to be involved with. A great COC game. The atmosphere was great. It’s always a tough place to play down here.”
Webb City will try to rebound Monday at home against Willard. Republic will be home against Neosho on Monday.