Jeff Cali Sports Editor email@example.com
As the lone senior and the undisputed leader for the Shawnee Lady Wolves, McKenzie Cooper put her team on her back during the championship game of the 2013 Bertha Frank Teague Mid-America Classic Saturday night at East Central University’s Kerr Activities Center.
Cooper scored a game-high 21 points and made several key plays in the fourth quarter to lead Shawnee past Mount St. Mary 41-37.
Shawnee, ranked No. 1 in Class 5A, stayed unbeaten at 5-0 on the year while Mount St. Mary slipped to 8-3 after the runner-up finish.
“McKenzie is a great player, and she really came to play tonight,” said Shawnee head coach Wendi Wells. “Even though when she wasn’t making shots early, she continued to attack. Eventually, she was able to knock some down and open up some of our other kids.”
The championship battle was close throughout, and Shawnee led just 33-32 after Mount St. Mary got two free throws from Kaely Bond with 3:32 to play.
Kelsey Simmons answered with a bucket inside after a nice assist from Cooper to make it 35-32 just 22 seconds later.
Cooper drew a charge later in the period but missed a free throw with 1:11 to play. But Simmons came up with a big steal and layup that gave the Lady Wolves a 37-32 lead with just under a minute to play.
“Kelsey’s a great defender. She makes us go defensively because she guards the other team’s best player and ball handler,” Wells said. “She’s always able to get a hand in there and get a steal, usually at the most crucial time.”
Cooper — who was named the tournament’s most valuable player — followed a pair of missed field goals by the Lady Rockets with a putback basket with 32 seconds left, stretching the Shawnee lead to 39-32 and effectively icing the game.
MSM would get close again, thanks to a rare Shawnee mistake. After Aimee Rishcard hit a free throw with 20.6 ticks left, the Lady Wolves committed a violation on the ensuing inbounds play. Bond quickly fired up a 3-pointer and missed. Jordan Braun got the rebound for MSM and kicked the ball back out to Bond, who drained her second-chance shot from long range to get the Lady Rockets within 39-37 with 11.8 seconds left.
Bailey Taylor salted the game away with two free throws with 11.1 showing on the clock, and a Mount St. Mary turnover effectively ended the game.
“It’s exciting. It seemed like we came in flat, but Mount St. Mary is a great team,” Wells said. “Just to win this tournament with so many great teams here is a great honor for us.”
After Cooper’s fast-break bucket midway through the second quarter, Shawnee led 17-12 for its biggest lead of the first half. But MSM stormed back, getting 3-pointers from Bond and Adrienne Berry during an 8-2 run to finish the period that put the Lady Rockets on top 20-19 at the break.
The two talented teams were never separated by more than three points during a see-saw third quarter. Rishcard drained a 17-footer that gave MSM a 28-25 advantage at the 1:18 mark, but Cooper followed with back-to-back buckets that put Shawnee back on top 29-28 heading into the final eight minutes.
Taylor finished with 10 points and six rebound for the Lady Wolves, while Simmons added eight points and four steals. Shawnee also won the Mid-America championship in 2011.
“They’re a heck of a ballclub. It came down to a one- or two-possession game there in the fourth quarter — we kind of knew going in it was going to be tight. Hats off to them for making the plays down the stretch that got the victory for them,” said Mount St. Mary head coach Rory Hamilton.
Bond would finish with 13 points and seven rebounds for the Lady Rockets, while Berry had 13 points to go with six boards. Both players hit three 3-pointers apiece.
Hamilton was confident that his brutal December schedule will benefit his team in March.
“We’ve had a murder schedule. Most of our last seven games have been against teams that have either won the state championship or got second,” he said. “The fact that we’re 8-3 speaks volumes about the kind of kids we have. We need to be challenged, and we definitely got challenged down here and it’s going to make us better come state tournament time.”
It was Mount St. Mary’s first-ever appearance in the BFT Mid-America Classic, and Hamilton said it was a memorable one.
“The hospitality and the first-class treatment has been something our kids will never forget. The opportunity to play in such a historical basketball tournament is something they will remember the rest of their lives,” he said. “As the first team from Mount St. Mary to ever be down here, it was remarkable.”