Many coaches shorten up the bench and go with their most trusted players when the season is on the line.
Crane coach Jeremy Mullins showed he trusts his whole group on Saturday, going to his bench on the biggest stage in Missouri high school basketball, and staying true to the season’s pattern.
That pattern led the Lady Pirates to their first state championship in school history.
The Crane starters were fresh down the stretch, outlasting New Haven 55-45 to win the Class 2 state title at Mizzou Arena.
For the rest and fresh legs, the starters can again thank their deep roster, and their coach’s willingness to use it.
“We have all those legs and we have all that rest,” Crane junior starter Allie Hagler said. “Other teams only play their main five, and maybe one other substitute, and they’re not ready to go. And we run. That’s our main thing — run.”
Mullins subbed in five players — Kylee Moore, Kylie Vaught, Justine Mahan, Loni Johnson and Addison Reel — for five minutes in the first half, and the group maintained Crane’s three-point lead.
In the second half, the group surrendered a 33-28 lead in a four-minute span in the third quarter.
But as New Haven junior point guard Rachel Steinhoff continued to tire from the constant Crane pressure, the rest afforded to the starters proved crucial.
Because, when the first unit returned with a one-point deficit and only 8 minutes left in the season, the Lady Pirates (30-3) were ready to seize the moment.
Led by lone senior Maggie McMenamy, Crane answered New Haven’s run with an 18-7 fourth-quarter edge. McMenamy made a traditional three-point play to take the lead, and scored nine of her team-high 13 points in the fourth to make sure her team stayed ahead.
“She’s the leader of our team and means everything to all of us,” Hagler said. “We look up to her, and she’s our main scorer. She was great.”
Steinhoff scored a game-high 26 points, and was the reason New Haven (21-11) had a chance late. But she admitted afterward the Crane pressure caught up to her.
“I know from the beginning their goal was going to be to wear me out,” Steinhoff said. “And they did a good job of that, for sure.”
Added New Haven coach Doug Peirick: “We just ran out of gas. They came at us with lots of girls. They guarded well; everybody on their team guarded well.”
Riley Israel led the defensive effort against Steinhoff, with others stepping in to spell her from time to time. Steinhoff and the Shamrocks took second last year, and also graduate one senior.
Israel also had 12 points, and freshman center Emma Lander had 10 points.
A Crane alumnus, Mullins said the win is extra special.
“I can hold my head high and walk down that hallway,” Mullins said. “My high school career wasn’t very successful. But this is how I get to stay close to the game, and it’s turned around, and we’re headed in the right direction.”
For the players, it’s a chance to even bragging rights with their male counterparts, who won the 2011 Class 2 state title.
“We got so much crap from the boys saying that we would never make it here and that we needed to bow down and kiss their rings,” Hagler said. “Now we get to do the same thing.”
With McMenamy as the only senior, and key contributors throughout the ranks, it’s not a stretch to say the run could be the start of a special era of Crane basketball.
“It’s my first one, so we’ll have to see and maybe get creative,” Mullins said. “But I think that ring, and that trophy, should keep them hungry.”