Kelly (10-1), the No. 10-ranked girls team in the SEMO poll, held off Sikeston for a 70-61 win on Thursday at Kelly High School.
"We're coming together," said Sikeston coach Tiffany King. "The hustle and intensity were there. All this week we talked about heart and the girls gave their hearts tonight.
"I told them there's nothing to be ashamed of. The scoreboard showed that Kelly won, but I think we won, too."
The Lady Bulldogs (3-8), down by as many as 19 points in the third quarter and playing with only six players against Kelly's rotation of 15, cut the margin to 12, 58-46, as the third period expired.
"We played 15 girls tonight and that's part of our philosophy to play as many as we can," said Kelly coach Rod McQuerter, "but the five or six that Sikeston does play are very talented."
If fatigue was a factor, the Lady Bulldogs didn't give in to it as they kept coming in the fourth quarter, shaving the deficit to eight at 66-58 with about 2:30 remaining.
A 3-point dagger by Kelly's Stephanie Hency at about the 1:28 mark lifted the lead to 11 and effectively killed Sikeston's momentum.
In a high-scoring first quarter, Kelly led 24-19, then 41-30 at the half.
During Sikeston's third and fourth-quarter runs, Kelly Essner continually put the Lady Hawks on her shoulder. The senior Essner, who scored a season-high 28 points, sank critical baskets and free throws and made key steals on several occasions to keep the Lady Bulldogs at bay.
Asked about her role as a leader of the team, Essner said, "Actually we have four leaders, the four seniors, and we all play a part in that, but I guess I may try to step up a little more because I'm the most experienced."
Sikeston's inspired play was no surprise to Kelly coach McQuerter.
"Sikeston's a very well-coached team, very talented, and we were fortunate to be able to compete with them," he said. "It was a good game for us in a good atmosphere. Both teams played extremely hard." The Lady Bulldogs' rebounding game, led by junior Whitney McCray, kept them in the contest with second- and third-chance opportunities on the offensive end while limiting the Lady Hawks to single shots on many trips down the court.
"Whitney dominated on the boards," said Sikeston coach Tiffany King. "She was our MVP tonight."
Besides grabbing a bundle of rebounds, McCray also led the Lady Bulldog scorers with 19 points.
"I just wanted to play hard and try to help my team get a win," she said.
Lady Bulldog freshman Martika Davis, also with a strong effort on the boards, chipped in with 14 points, while junior floor leader Ali Blurton added 12.
Juniors Leigh Ann Buchheit and Mindy Robert tallied 10 points apiece for the Lady Hawks.
Kelly's JV swamped Sikeston 45-4.
Sikeston goes on the road against Caruthersville on Monday at 6 p.m.