With the ball rolling in the opposite direction, RBHS junior guard Sophie Cunningham knelt forward, picking up the ball with her fingertips as the clock dipped beneath three seconds remaining in the first half. In an act of desperation Cunningham effortlessly launched the ball from between her legs, lunging forward as time expired and sending the ball towards the rim. It never hit it. It never hit anything but net.
While this may have been the most celebrated shot that Cunningham converted in the game, it was just a small portion of her total points. Adding 31 to her already impressive career total, Cunningham broke through a pesky Hickman defense, helping the No. 1 Lady Bruins shake off the No. 3 Kewpies, 66-51.
“She was feeling it; that’s for sure,” RBHS head coach Jill Nagel said of Cunningham’s performance. “Kind of in the zone, as they say, offensively. She did a good job of taking great shots, though. She pushed it in transition because she knew she could get some easy baskets that way. But it’s being a smart player.”
Though the night centered around the junior guard, the first half spotlight was shared with another junior guard from Hickman, Emily Miller. Miller attempted the first seven shots for the Lady Kewpies and finished the half with 13 points. With the rest of her team shooting 75 percent from the floor, Hickman found themselves down only eight at the half to the No. 11 team in the country.
Coming out of halftime adjustments both Hickman and RBHS placed appropriate pressure on the first half stars of their respective opponents, forcing both offenses to find production elsewhere. Cunningham returned the favors to her teammates on the floor, dishing out assists throughout the second half as she was only able to find seven points the rest of the night.
“They were guarding me pretty close the second half,” Cunningham said, “and that leaves someone else wide open. Our post did a great job. [Senior] Audrey[Holt], [junior] Cierra [Porter] and [senior] Bri Porter just finished. A lot of and ones and it was a great win for us.”
In a second half that was plagued with numerous fouls on both sides of the floor, opportunities were scarce for both teams to create offense. The Lady Kewpies applied pressure on the defensive end of the ball causing sloppy ball handling from the RBHS offense during stretches of the third quarter.
“We weren’t necessarily turning the ball over,” Nagel said. “We only had nine turnovers but we weren’t making the most of our opportunities at times. And that became a little bit of a frustration. A team like Hickman is very fundamentally sound. They aren’t going to beat themselves. You’re going to have to beat them, and that means you’re going to have to make great decisions. And we didn’t make a great decision every single time.”
While the Lady Bruins may not have made a great choice passing the ball every time down the court, when the RBHS offense got rolling they were near unstoppable. Cierra Porter was a perfect four of four from the field which added to her game total of 17 points. Following suit, the Lady Bruins finished the game shooting 85 percent from the floor and converting 9 of 15 free throws. The RBHS defense, ranked third in the country by USA Today, also closed out the game by holding the Lady Kewpies to only six successful shots in the second half.
In a rare string of home games, the Lady Bruins will look to continue their 14 game winning streak on Friday as they play host to Shawnee Mission West (KS) before heading to St. Louis to participate in the Webster Winter Classic.
“We prepare one game at a time so tomorrow we have Shawnee Mission West,” Nagel said. “At that point we will prepare for the next game but at this point we are just focused on Shawnee Mission West.”
By Brayden Parker