(Photo by David Jenkins, Staff)
For the ninth time in 10 years, Kelly will be in a district championship game after getting past Caruthersville 70-65 Monday night in the Class 3, District 1 semifinals.
"I'm so proud of the girls," said Kelly coach Rod McQuerter. "I told them in the locker room that I've been able to make it to nine district championships in my 10 years and I'm so proud of the girls because they allow me to have a roller coaster ride every day."
Monday's game was like a roller coaster as Caruthersville jumped out to a 9-
0 lead to start the game in which Kelly appeared to be outmatched. However after a time out, the Lady Hawks began to slowly chip into the Lady Tiger lead and only trailed 13-9 after the first quarter.
"That's called playing freshman and sophomores in their first district semifinal game," McQuerter said of his team's slow start. "I told them to settle down and be patient. If you are patient good things will happen and once my freshmen settled down out there good things did."
Kelly cut the Caruthersville lead to 29-26 at halftime as the game began to get more and more physical, playing into the hands of the Lady Hawks.
"We play a very tough schedule," McQuerter said. "When you play teams like Poplar Bluff and Delta, we have to play physical. That's our game."
"You can't come out and play weak because you won't get anywhere," said Kelly's Debra Hall, who finished with a team-high 25 points and 10 rebounds. "If you want to get to the championship game you have to play physical."
The second half saw the physical Lady Hawks take over the game as Kelly, behind senior Kayla Cissell, built a 47-41 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Cissell had eight points in the quarter and finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds, often times ripping the ball away from Caruthersville players' hands.
"We have a lot of young girls and I try to lead them being one of the seniors," Cissell said.
"I'm so proud of my seniors," McQuerter said. "Cissell had 11 offensive rebounds tonight, but she got those rebounds because her teammates were there for her."
One of those teammates was point guard Londyn Backfisch. The sophomore battled Caruthersville's leading scorer Kyisha Ricks all night long and was able to get several baskets penetrating around Ricks and the Lady Tiger defense.
"(Ricks) plays physical but that's how we go every day in practice so I was used to it," Backfisch said. "I was just trying to get used to her speed. My coaches told me to keep going around her and my teammates encouraged me to keep going."
Backfisch finished the game with 18 points and four steals while Ricks ended with a game-high 29 points. Leola Hubbard also added 20 for Caruthersville (15-6).
"I couldn't ask for anything better than those two," Caruthersville coach Lamont Bell said of Ricks and Hubbard. "Leola had a crick in her neck and wasn't real mobile but she played through it. I think we got away from our game plan a little bit there late in the game because we were fatigued but that's what good teams do to you."
Kelly built as much as a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter but Caruthersville could never get the lead under five points.
"I think we ran out of gas," Bell said. "They were running players in and out and we didn't have as many to run in as he did. We fought. They were just the better team tonight and we wish them all the luck."
With the win, Kelly improves to 17-7 and will take on Portageville Thursday at 6 p.m. for the district championship.
"It was a great girls basketball game," McQuerter said. "Both teams competed but the most important thing about our girls was they had a positive attitude. They didn't get down, played hard and most importantly played as a team."