POPLAR BLUFF - The Kelly Lady Hawks will battle the Doniphan Donettes for the second straight year in the sectional round of the Class 3 playoffs. Tipoff is set for tonight at 6:30 at the Poplar Bluff High School.
Last season, Doniphan defeated Kelly in the sectionals 65-50. The Donettes went on to lose to Hancock, 58-47 in the quarterfinals of Class 3.
Doniphan (22-4) advanced to sectionals this year with a 94-61 championship victory over Caruthersville in District 1 of Class 3. Kelly (20-8) survived their district championship game with a buzzer-beater over Greenville, 50-49 in District 2.
Both programs are no strangers to the playoffs. Doniphan has won 12 district titles; two straight, while Kelly has won 10 district championships; three in the last four years.
The Donettes' best finish was second place in Class 3A in 2001. Doniphan lost the championship game 70-40 to Notre Dame de Sion. In 1989, Doniphan finished fourth in Class 3A.
Kelly's best finish in program history was back in 1978, when the Lady Hawks finished second in Class 2A, losing the championship game to Visitation, 53
-43. Kelly finished third in Class 2A after defeating Cole Camp, 45-34 in 1992. In 1977, Kelly finished in fourth place in Class 2A.
As for this year's game, coach Rod McQuerter of Kelly understands that his club is coming into the matchup as the underdogs.
"Doniphan is very well coached and is one of the top teams in the state," said McQuerter. "Coach Blackwell does a tremendous job with his team and you can bet that they will play hard the entire game. We just have to come out with a positive attitude and play the game like it is the last one. Leave nothing on the floor."
Kelly comes out you in droves, but the main scoring threat is 5-foot-10 freshman Debra Hall. Working hard in the post, Hall is a force down low and despite her age, is extremely savvy in establishing good offensive position down on the blocks.
Hall is averaging 15 points and nine rebounds per game for the Lady Hawks. Hall has a stellar 60 percent field goal percentage for the year.
Working with Hall in the frontcourt, is 5-10 senior Mindy Robert. Despite being hampered by a lingering knee injury all season, Robert is a force on the glass and is physically strong on the low blocks. For the season, Robert is averaging nine points and five rebounds per game.
Leigh Ann Buchheit, a 5-10 senior and Kayla Cissell, a 5-9 sophomore, add height and depth off the bench for Kelly. Buchheit is averaging six points a game and Cissell is scoring at five points per game.
"I am worried about the size of Kelly," said Doniphan head coach Jimbo Blackwell. "We are not very big and they are a handful down in the paint. I respect Kelly and coach Rod (McQuerter). Their kids will be ready to play and we have to be ready for a battle."
Point guard Brittany Ponder has stepped her game up in the last few months of the season and is becoming a leader for the Lady Hawks. Ponder is averaging 10 points, six assists and four rebounds per game for Kelly.
The hero from the district final game for Kelly, Nikki Weiny, is scoring five points per game and Sarah Ruff, a 5-7 sophomore guard, is scoring six points per game.
Besides Buchheit and Cissell, Lauren Gean and Katee Moore provide added scoring punch off the bench for Kelly. Gean is scoring three points per game, while Moore is averaging five points per game.
"Our whole game starts with our attitude," said McQuerter, "if we have a positive attitude, everything will fall into place. We like to be patient on offense, but on defensive we like to be aggressive and pressure. What defense we play depends on what a team might throw at us. No matter what, we will pressure on defense."
Doniphan is led by 5-6 junior sharp-shooter Morgan Davis, who is averaging 23 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Davis is coming off a district final in which she scored 36 points and hit eight 3-pointers.
For the season, Davis is shooting 89 percent from the free throw line, 49 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and has hit a school record 87 3's in one season.
"Davis is having a phenomenal year," said Blackwell. "She is an outstanding shooter and if you leave her open, she is going to bury the shot."
Besides the output of Davis, Doniphan is a well balanced offensive team which relies mainly on the jump shot for production. Senior Kaci Price is the second leading scorer and leading rebounder on the Donettes, averaging a little over eight points per game and five boards a game.
Angela Rodgers, a 5-7 junior, is scoring over seven points per game, while juniors Haily Reed and Adja Jones are scoring about six points per game for the Donettes. At 5-10, Jones is the tallest starter on Doniphan.
Chelsea Swindle, a 5-7 sophomore, is the leading scorer off the bench for Doniphan, scoring close to seven points per game. Jaysa Blackwell, Melissa Kennon and Jordan Hart all score about four points per game off the bench for the Donettes.
"We play an up-tempo style on both offense and defense," said Blackwell. "We press and get up and down the floor as quickly as possible. We look for the 3-pointer but we can pound it down low."
Concerning the defensive end, Blackwell acknowledged that his team prefers man-to-man defense, but can adapt on the fly.
"We play man defense, usually fullcourt," said Blackwell. "We might throw in a halfcourt trap, but we like to pressure no matter the defense."
The height and defensive pressure of Kelly has Blackwell somewhat concerned leading up to the game.
"They get after it on defense," said Blackwell. "They pressure and are in your face. I don't think we have seen this type of pressure all season. They are very fundamentally sound and will come at you for the full 32 minutes. Kelly works hard and plays with great tenacity."
For McQuerter, the entire team of Donettes, not just Davis, has him concerned.
"We can't just focus on Davis," said McQuerter. "We have to be aware of every player they have on the floor. Doniphan has 10 or 12 players that can beat you on any given night. No, you can't just focus on one player. It is going to be a tough challenge for the girls, but if we come out with positive attitudes, whatever happens; happens. I am proud of the girls and we will come out and play hard."