In the movie Gran Torino Clint Eastwood's character Walt Kowalski says to a trio of bad guys, "Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn't have messed with? That's me."
Last Saturday in the Class 1 Quarterfinals at Salisbury that special someone for the Community R-6 varsity girls basketball team was Green City's Brook Littrell. Despite 35 points by the junior guard, the big difference between that more than a decade old fictional offering and reality was that Lady Trojans head coach Bob Curtis doesn't scare.
Instead, the 18-year head coach used the six points Natalie Thomas scored in the first quarter on her way to clocking 18 for the game to take a 14-7 lead. When his squad then carried that advantage to being up 33-21 at the half and 40-31 at 3:24 of the third based on Delaney Bowers scoring 13 and Brianna Beamer giving a 10 point performance for the contest, a trip to Springfield this weekend seemed like a foregone conclusion.
Green City may have been down, but was far from out, and parlayed six-straight points by Litrell at the end of the third to make it a 43-39 contest heading into the fourth.
Curtis didn't seem to have a problem with that and simply countered with a combination of Thomas dropping an old-fashioned three-pointer at 7:21 and Beamer going 3-for-4 from the free throw line to extend CR-6's lead to 10 points at 49-39. That, along with eight points by Sadie Hoyt, gave the Lady Trojans the momentum to keep on rolling their way to a 61-50 victory.
"These kids have played in a lot of big games. In the first half they were very calm and collected," said Curtis. "We ere vey calm and collected. We got a lot of transition buckets and got them in foul trouble. That's where we got our lead the rest of the game was pretty square. (Green City) played pretty good in the first half," said Curtis. "Our kids executed the game plan well. Brook Litrell is just a load to guard. We said (before the game if we could score) somewhere around 60 we could be successful."
In the first quarter Thomas helped the Lady Trojans double-up on the Lady Gophers starting with a pair of free throws at 7:09 followed by a pair of field goals, the second of which came at 4:11. Deann Brooks also got in the scoring mix for CR-6 at 5:21, as did Bowers and Beamer. Litrell countered for Green City in the session by going 2-for-4 from the charity stripe with a pair of baskets. That made Mary Watt the only other player on her team to score in the stanza by splitting free throws at :43.5.
"I thought defensively we were really good. We were in a Diamond-and-one and knew where (Litrell) was going to try and score from and just tried to beat her there and try and get high hands and make her miss," Curtis said. "The kids executed the game plan offensively and defensively and I think that was the difference."
Having taken a dozen-point advantage into the break, the Lady Trojans quickly found themselves on the wrong side of 7-0 run that let the Lady Gophers pull within 33-28 at 6:31 of the third. When Alexis Welch and Hoyt then gave the appropriate respond for CR-6, only to find Litrell and Gracey Gordon coming back at them to keep it a 37-31 contest at 4:05, it took Hoyt going 3-for-4 from the free throw line to make it a nine-point lead with less than three and a half minutes left in the quarter.
"We've been to the quarterfinals twice. This is the first time to the final four. (What makes this sqaud special) is their depth," said Curtis. "Also, all year we lost two games out of 28 and there was one night we just didn't have it. Every other night we've had it except one close loss to Cairo. We got in foul trouble today. We went to the next girl and she contributed "
The final session featured numerous trips to the free throw line at the end by both sides, but began with Beamer dropping a set of free throws at 7:49 and Thomas connecting on yet another old-fashioned three-pointer at 7:21 to make it a 48-39 contest. Fast forward to the final moments and it was nothing but Thomas draining shots from the charity stripe for the Lady Trojans in the final minute to secure her teams 11-point victory and their trip to the final four this weekend.
"Everyday in practice these kids battle against each other," Curtis said. "We've got a lot of good player who are waiting their turn."