(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
The Lady Hawks will play John Burroughs at 8:15 p.m., with the winner moving on to the Final Four in Columbia.
"We're just happy to be a part of the Elite Eight," said Kelly head coach Rod McQuerter. "It's a great experience for the girls. The school and the community are very excited."
Just getting to Saturday's game has been a wild ride for the Lady Hawks. First came Kelly's win over Charleston in the Class 3, District 2 championship game.
Cara Scherer sank two free throws with 2.8 seconds left in overtime, lifting Kelly to a 46-44 win.
The Lady Hawks won another overtime thriller on Wednesday night, upsetting Twin Rivers 53-51 in the sectional round. In that game, freshman Mindy Robert scored the game-winning basket before the buzzer, sending the Kelly faithful into a frenzy.
"It has been a very tough road for us," said McQuerter. "Charleston and Twin Rivers are very tough basketball teams. We're just excited our girls are able to continue to play. It has been a very special season for our basketball team. I feel very thankful and blessed to have a group like this."
Now Kelly will be shooting for its first Final Four appearance since 1992. The Lady Hawks are led by senior Dana Essner, who is averaging 14 points, four assists, five rebounds and four steals per game.
Essner is Kelly's all-time leader in steals and assists, averaging over 100 steals and 100 assists in each of her four years.
Kelly Essner is another main cog, putting up 12 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals per game. Other key players include Jessica Burnett, Monica Senciboy, Ashley Kern, Christy Kluesner, Natalie Scherer and Andrea Kluesner.
"We have a great group of seniors that are dedicated and come to practice every day and work hard," said McQuerter. "That just trickles down to your younger girls. They see the seniors working hard every day in practice, and they eventually do the same thing."
The only team left standing between Kelly and Columbia is Burroughs.
The Lady Bombers haven't set the world on fire from a win-loss standpoint, checking into Saturday's game with a mark of 13-14. Their overall record is deceiving though.
Five of the team's losses came to Class 4 teams that reached the quarterfinal round this year.
"We've had some hard times this year, but we've also learned a lot by playing the schedule we play," said John Burroughs head coach Martha Fischer. "The girls are starting to put it together, and this is a great time to do it. They've done a nice job."
The Lady Bombers were seeded third in their district, but peaked at the right time, upsetting both Bayless and Hancock.
In the sectional round, Burroughs defeated Crystal City 54-44.
"We're thrilled to be here, but we're certainly not satisfied," said Fischer. "We're not going to mail it in. We would like to get as far as we can. I expect both teams will be really up for this game."
Burroughs is led by Beth Argetsinger (5-6, soph.) and Alana Fields (5-8, sr.), who both average 13.4 points per game. Catherine Daake (5-10, sr.) scores 10 points a night.
"All the kids contribute," said Fischer. "We try and focus a lot on defense. If we can run, we try to do that as well."
Last season Burroughs was defeated by Notre Dame in the state quarterfinals.
"John Burroughs has a tough team," said McQuerter. "They play a lot of 5A and 4A teams, so they're very prepared for Class 3 basketball. It's going to be a very tough game for our girls. We just hope to come out, match their intensity and play as a team."