When the first quarter ended with the Northeast varsity girls basketball team, 24-6 overall, leading Skyline, 29-2 overall, 9-8 in the class 2 consolation game in Springfield at Missouri State University on Friday, the contest was looking as even as it gets at that point.
That's when Skyline's Kaylee DaMitz broke loose for seven points in the second quarter to help her team take a 28-13 lead at halftime that it just kept building on until finally putting Cairo away 64-35.
"Skyline's athletic and strenght was the difference in this game. They really put a lot of pressure on us and DaMitz is a really good basketball player whose already agreed to play at Pitt State," said Northeast coach Brian Winkler. "They're a difficult team to guard. We tried to do our best to adjust, but they're well-coached."
Northeast's biggest problem of the contest came in that second session when it was held to just four points. This incudes an early field goal and two free throws by Mackenzie Dubbert at 1:03 to make it a 13-point game.
"Dubbert is quite a player. She's spent a lot of time on the game of basketball working really hard," Brian Winkler said. "It's one of those things where you're really fortunate to be around her and the class that's with her. She just continues to work. Mackenzie does a great job in the offseason. The biggest thing is that she takes a lot of shots."
In the third Cairo basically played even with Skyline thanks to an early free throw and field goal by Keegan Ryan. Dubbert then came through with a triple, as well as a pair of free throws, at 2:36 and 1:35. Taegan Bartolacci also posted a makes from the charity stripe for Northeast with just over a second remaining to cut the deficit to 44-28.
"Skyline started jumping our ball screens and double teaming to try and speed us up. Any time you get an offensive player sped up your probably dictating the pace of the game and that's what you want to do," Brian Winkler said. "We're just looking to get stronger at this point, but they did do a good job speeding us up. We had to make quick decisions and sometimes that's not easy to do."
Despite Cairo's intensity until the final buzzer, when the Lady Tigers began the fourth with a basket by Autumn Garrett followed several minutes later by three free throws and a field goal from Chloe Cole to make it a 54-30 game at 4:58, things were looking dire. That didn't stop Dubbert and Ryan from hitting their free throws, though, and while that also motivated Brynn Winkler to post a score that set up Kayla Koester for one last basket for the Lady Bearcats, time simply wasn't on their side.
"We wanted to get a lot of movement on offense. Try and set a lot of screens," said Brian Winkler. "I thought they did a good job of bothering us by putting pressure on the ball. We really have to do a better job handling the ball against pressure like that, but I'm not sure there are a lot of teams that can against a team like this. We just have to get better at handling the ball and setting screens. That was our philosiphy coming in."
In the semifinals Northeast played Mid-Buchanan, 28-2 overall, on Thursday and was defeated 60-35. Prior to that Cairo beat New Haven 38-36 on March 3 and in the quarterfinals Sturgeon 46-40 in sectionals on Feb. 28.
""(Against Mid-Buchanan) both teams really put a lot of pressure on the other. We're going to have to pride ourselves and try and get better at protecting the ball against really good pressure. That was the difference," Brian Winkler said. "Every coach wants to come here. I feel blessed I had an opportunity to have a team come (to the finals here at Missouri State University in Springfield). There are a lot of coaches more deserving than I am, so I'm just trying to soak it in and be appreciative of the moment."