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Incarnate Word, Springfield Kickapoo advance to Class 6 title game

IWA is the four-time defending champion and has won 67 straight games.
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By Cody Thorn I Photos by Cheap Seats Photography

SPRINGFIELD — Bella Fontleroy put an exclamation mark on a dominating third quarter.

The Springfield Kickapoo star, who will play at Baylor, hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the frame and up to that point, provided the largest lead for the Chiefs.

The double-digit margin going in the fourth didn’t evaporate and No. 3 Kickapoo posted a 51-36 win over No. 6 Blue Springs South in a Class 6 semifinal game on Thursday at JQH Arena.

“She's the hardest matchup (we've had), I was trying to think of some of the best players that we've seen and if she's not the best, she's right up there with the best,” Blue Springs South coach Kory Lower said of Fontleroy, who had 24 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and hit two of Kickapoo’s three 3-pointers. “The thing that makes her difficult is she can post up or she can step out and shoot the three and if you don't have the right personnel to match up with that makes it very, very difficult to ever play them in a man (defense.)”

Fontleroy was dominating in the third quarter with 11 points, six rebounds, two blocks and the 3-pointer.

Prior to the trey, the 6-foot-2 forward/post, had two layups inside to help Kickapoo outside Blue Springs South 12-4 on buckets inside the paint.

The loss spoiled the debut in the MSHSAA Show-Me Showdown for Blue Springs South, while the Chiefs will be in the title game for the 11th time.

“You know, I thought maybe coming into this game that our experience would be a factor,” Kickapoo coach Jim Pendergrass said of his team, which took third last year. “Because these kids have played here. They played on this stage. They know what to expect. There's not going to be anything new. They know how hard it is. And they know that there's going to be times in the game or it's going to be different, very difficult. And we can't live and die by those possessions. We've got to move on to the next and the team that limits those mistakes and compounds those mistakes the team that doesn't do that. Those teams are going to be successful or were able to do that in the second half tonight.”

The difference in the game boiled down to the third, when the Jaguars (25-5) were outscored 24-8. Taking that quarter away, the Jaguars outscored the Chiefs by one. Blue Springs South battled a mixture of foul problems and the Chiefs (28-3) adjusting to the defense they were facing.

Blue Springs South went up 20-18 on an early layup from Jaidynn Mason on the first possession of the second half.

That turned out to be the penultimate time the Jaguars led. Kickapoo took the lead with 7:15 to play on a layup by sophomore guard Kya Johnson, who had nine of her 14 points in the quarter, making it 21-20. The Jaguars regained the lead on a jumper by Mason, who had a team-high 18 points, less than 20 seconds later.

Another basket by Johnson made it 23-21, starting a 14-0 run.

A turning point in the run was the Jaguars’ inability to get a rebound when it needed one. Five times during the 14-0 run, Kickapoo missed a shot and got an offensive rebound. Three came in an 11-second span where the Chiefs missed a shot, drew a foul, missed the second free-throw attempt, grabbed the rebound and then scored a layup.

A layup by Kendall Puryear with 2:23 left in the third ended the run and cut the deficit to 11 but going into the fourth the Chiefs led 42-26 after the 3-pointer by Fontleroy.

South responded in the fourth by outscoring Kickapoo, 10-9, but never could get the deficit to single digits. Twice in the fourth the Jaguars pulled within 13.

Blue Springs South battled foul issues – 18 total compared to six by Kickapoo – that led to one player fouling out and four others playing with three fouls. Shooting woes didn’t help, as the Jaguars were 14-for-51 from the field and 5-for-25 on 3s.

“I felt like we were just we were probably a little bit nervous and pressing a little bit and when we weren't hitting shots,” said Lower, whose team had won 11 in a row heading into the game. “Then it was like it was kind of building and I was like ‘Oh, we have to make the next one.’ Instead of just being patient and kind of letting the game come to us. I felt like we pressed a little bit and then that just snowballed into a bigger lead.”

Kickapoo shot 45 percent from the field in the game but was 10-for-18 (55.6 percent) in the second half and hit 11 of 19 free throws over the final two quarters.

The Chiefs, winners of 14 straight, will play No. 1 Incarnate Word in the championship. The Jaguars will look to regroup against unranked St. Joseph’s Academy.

“It goes really, really great, but we're not done yet. There's still a lot of work to do tomorrow,” said Fontleroy of the matchup against an Incarnate Word team that beat Kickapoo, 62-42, on Dec. 12. “Thirty-two minutes tomorrow, and we just got to refocus. We can celebrate this one but tonight before we go to bed, we need to make sure that we're centered and ready to get after tomorrow.”

Incarnate Word 71, St. Joseph’s Academy 23

In the early game on Thursday, the defending state champions earned a fifth straight trip to the championship game.

The Red Knights won thier 67th game in a row, aided by an 18-0 run to start the contest and set the tone early. Senior Jaiden Bryant hit a 3-pointer only 8 seconds into the game to give the St. Louis powerhouse the only lead it needed.

Four different players scored during the early barrage, six coming from junior Natalie Potts – last year’s Gatorade Player of the Year. The 6-foot-2 post scored eight of her nine points in the first quarter and Incarnate Word led 23-3.

The No. 1-ranked Red Knights (28-0) opened the second quarter with an 11-0 run, which provided a 34-3 lead with 3:55 remaining in the first half. That paved the way for a 43-9 lead – 25 points which came off turnovers – for Incarnate Word.

The nearly turbo-clock lead allowed Dan Rolfes to get 13 players into the game, 12 of whom scored at least one point.

Senior Saniah Tyler, a Kentucky commit, led the Red Knights with 11 points, while Potts and junior Olivia Hahn, sophomore Kaylynn Janes each had nine. Potts had nine of the Red Knights’ 27 steals.

The Angels were led in scoring by sophomore Zoe Stewart, who had nine points. St. Joseph’s Academy had 10 more points turnovers than points.

The victory marked the 18th straight win against the Red Knights’ city rivals. St. Joseph’s (20-10) lost by 50 in the first meeting this year.

The win tied Northwest (Mendon) for the fifth-longest winning streak in the girls' basketball history, according to the MSHSAA record books. That streak ran from 1954-1957. 

The teams ahead of the Red Knights in the leaderboard now are St. Joseph’s Academy (72), Northeast Nodaway (78), Marshfield (102) and Strafford (123).

The Red Knights will look to have back-to-back undefeated championship seasons after going 29-0 last year.

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