[heading size=”16″ margin=”10″]Bruin girls basketball team takes state championship[/heading]Last night, as most students were off to exotic locales for spring break, the RBHS girls basketball team defeated Liberty High School for their fourth state title in four years; their fifth overall. However, unlike much of their unprecedented run, the championship wasn’t assured until the the 32 minutes were finally over.
After the teams combined for five turnovers in the first 1:30, the Bruins and Blue Jays traded blows for the first few minutes of the first quarter. Rock Bridge pulled ahead a little and led 14-8 with 1:51 to play in the first quarter.
Then, the momentum swiftly shifted in favor of Liberty. For almost 10 minutes, the Blue Jays overwhelmed the Bruins on both sides of the floor. Liberty went on a 16-4 run that continued into the second half.
“Down four at the half I told the kids that two years ago we were down ten at half and I like this situation a lot better than I did two years ago. That one turned out well,” Bruin head coach Jill Nagel said. “They were shooting very well at the half. I’m a stat person; stats told me that they don’t normally shoot 56 percent. Those stats tended to work out for us in the second half. We don’t normally shoot 35 percent.”
In the first half, star players Sophie Cunningham and Cierra Porter – who had guided the Bruins to three state titles – scored 14 of the team’s 18 points as the team shot a meager 35 percent from the field. In the second half, trailing by six, their tactics shifted.
Cunningham swung the ball to a wide-open Carly Offerdahl who nailed a corner three to narrow the deficit to three. Less than a minute later, Porter kicked it out for another Offerdahl three from the same spot on the floor. After Cunningham tied it up for the Bruins, Offerdahl gave them a lead they wouldn’t relinquish with a jumper a few steps inside the arc. After Offerdahl’s second three, Cunningham’s face lit up with a smile that didn’t leave her face until after she left the building and likely later.
“Carly [Offerdahl] stepped up. Bri Ellis stepped up, the bench, the crowd,” Cunningham said. “It’s an amazing feeling, undescribable.”
Although Rock Bridge led, the Blue Jays kept it close in the fourth quarter. A three from Morgan Fleming that miraculously bounced in off the rim narrowed the Bruins’ lead to 37-35. Bri Ellis, who’d only scored two points in the first three quarters, sent the Bruins on a 12-0 run to end the game. She nailed a shot from downtown, Porter made two layups and Ellis nailed four free throws to ice the game.
The Bruin defense also cracked down on the Blue Jays in the second half, limiting them to 13 points on 5/17 shooting (29%) including no field goals in the final 4:30. Nagel credited the elevation of the play of the Bruins’ role players in the second half for the win.
“We just had so many kids step up at different times for us,” Nagel said. “You write about these two [Sophie and Cierra] a lot, and they were big. But what made it happen is everybody there in the back [of the press room], too. That’s why they’re here with us.”
With the final win of her high school career on the court she’ll play on next year as well, Cunningham still couldn’t stop smiling even long after the game ended. She made sure, though, to credit the incredible players over the last three years as well, many of whom were in attendance.
“Fourpeat. We can say it. Fourpeat,” Cunningham said. “There’s a lot of people in the stands; alumni who helped get the first, second and third ones.”
By Brett Stover
Photo: Bruins celebrate after winning the state championship. Photo by Brett Stover