The celebration likely never stopped for an entire bus ride from Springfield to Branson.
Branson advanced to the girls basketball Class 5 playoff quarterfinals with a 60-42 win over Republic Wednesday night at the O’Reilly Family Event Center. They could be heard loudly singing songs of celebration in their locker room after the game.
Junior Gracie Jaeger scored 16 points in the win, Branson’s third over Republic this season.
“It’s just so exciting,” Jaeger said. “We’ve just worked so hard. Beating Republic three times in a season is big. Not only winning sectionals, but it’s always good to beat Republic. They’re such a hard team to beat.”
The Pirates’ connections to each other don’t start and stop on the basketball court, which is part of the reason for their joyful outbursts after playoff wins.
“We spend countless hours together. After practices we hang out, we do Bible studies together, I mean we’re constantly together,” Jaeger said. “We just spend so much time together and we all have our strengths. We just know each other’s strengths so well now that we just try our best to play for each other.”
While some coaches discourage celebration, Branson (25-4) coach Kip Bough is happy to see so many smiles from his players.
“We celebrate pretty well, don’t we? Well, because they understand the work that goes into it. They know this is not easy,” Bough said. “This is fun. This is tough, getting this far is tough. Let them celebrate.”
Branson also got 16 points from senior Amanda Kearney, who is Branson’s all-time leading scorer in basketball — boys or girls. Kearney spent much of the game with Republic’s Madison Appleberry covering her like a wet blanket, and was limited to three made field goals.
That opened the path for Jaeger to score 16 points.
“I’m not surprised, honestly. The kid is a competitor, so I’m not surprised,” Bough said. “We know what (Jaeger) can do, we know the drive and we know the work ethic there.”
Republic coach Kris Flood left the Drury University campus impressed with Jaeger’s play.
“Jaeger played extremely well. She’s hurt us a couple of times, I thought she had a good game,” Flood said.
Terra Utz-Depriest, a 6-foot center, also hit double digits for Branson with 12 points. The Pirates showed that even though Kearney draws all-state attention, there is scoring depth in their lineup.
“If we were a one-man show, they’d just put five on (Kearney) and make it difficult, but they can’t do that,” Bough said. “We’re more than a one-trick pony.”
Flood said he is happy that Kearney, signed with NCAA Division II Harding University, will graduate high school this May.
“I hate to say it, I’ll be glad to see (Kearney) moving on,” Flood quipped. “Coaches will say the same thing about some of our kids in the past, but I’ve had my games with her. Like I said, she’s a really good player and I wish her well, but I’ll be glad when she’s gone.”
Republic (17-12) has now won four consecutive district championships, and stands to return a strong nucleus of players next season.
“It’s been a fun year, and I hate to see it end here, but I’m happy for Branson. I’m happy for a COC Large team to have a chance to possibly move on to Columbia,” Flood said.
Branson advances to the Class 5 quarterfinal, which will be held Saturday, March 11 at 2:45 p.m. at John Q. Hammons Court at the Meyer Wellness Center on the campus of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar. Branson will take on Rock Bridge (24-5), which defeated Lebanon 61-43 Wednesday night at State Fair Community College in Sedalia.
Lebanon (23-6), led by University of Missouri basketball signee Kelsey Winfrey, tied a program record for the most wins in a single season.
High school girls basketball Class 5 sectional playoff
Branson 60, Republic 42
At O’Reilly Family Event Center, Drury University
Republic — Taylor Fergen 14, Brylee Manes 8, Madison Beckham 6, Allyson Barett 6, Madison Appleberry 3, Megan Branstetter 3, Halli Bartelsmeyer 2, Avylina Powell-Qualo 1
Branson — Gracie Jaeger 16, Amanda Kearney 16, Terra Utz-Depriest 12, Lauren Garrison 8, Tori O’Dell 5, Karis Goodwin 2, Ravan Tucker 1.