They charge full-steam ahead, one wave after another. A cavalcade of ponytails, outstretched arms and a collective nose for the basketball.
You probably already knew that about the Crane Lady Pirates but, of all their 17 steals Thursday in their Class 2 semifinal, this one epitomized them all:
Lexi Vaught faked a jog down court after New Franklin grabbed a miss and then ran a half-circle, knifing through an opening between two offensive players, picking the dribbler’s pocket and scoring an easy layup.
And the onslaught was on, a 17-point lead only building from there, as Crane scored a 57-27 blowout victory at the Hearnes Center and moved within one win of a repeat state championship.
Tipoff against Skyline is 6:20 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
“I was hoping to get through (the defenders) and just get to the basket and get it to go in,” said Vaught, who scored 13 points, and later explained the play in detail. “I tried to make them think I’m going to stop and do something else and then all of a sudden get them when they stand up. They’re not prepared for it.”
New Franklin (28-2) committed 28 turnovers largely because of Crane’s pressing defense. Many times, New Franklin wouldn’t reach its 3-point line.
Crane (30-1), led by Emma Lander’s 23 points overall, scored 22 points off 17 first-half turnovers.
Among them, Riley Israel had back-to-back buckets off turnovers before Allie Hagler hit a step-back 3-pointer before the horn at the end of the half, at which point Crane led 40-13.
“We let Lexi go rover, I call it,” Crane coach Jeremy Mullins said. “We try to get a match-up we like and we try to push her off. We talk about rover-ing, maybe causing some havoc, when you try to roll and cover the easiest passes from there. We thrive on that.”
New Franklin was 8 of 28 from the field, and Crane easily won the rebounding battle, 42-28.
Skyline 37, New Haven 32
Skyline scored only 11 first-half points, but Krista Gideon hit a 3-pointer immediately at the start of the third quarter and Ashley Bishop followed suit on each of the next two possessions.
That proved to be the spark for the Lady Tigers as they advanced to the Class 2 championship, doing so after coach Kevin Cheek fired up the troops at halftime.
Asked what her mindset was coming out of the half, Bishop simply said, “Score. Make shots.”
Madisen Brethower scored a team-high 18 points and Bishop and Gideon combined to score 15 points for Skyline (26-5), which still had to sweat it to the end.
The Lady Tigers missed on three of four free-throw tries in the final two minutes, and New Haven had the ball and a chance to win the game with 38.8 seconds left as Skyline led only 33-31.
However, the Shamrocks (22-9) threw the ball away immediately after a timeout, leading their coach to fall to his knees and bury his head in his chest.
It was understandable. The Shamrocks had a chance to give themselves more separation before halftime after Gideon sat for a stretch after getting whistled for her third foul.
“When she picked up her third foul, it kind of bothered me,” Skyline coach Kevin Cheek said. “But we had other kids come in and run some stuff. Defensively, we had a freshman come in and guard really well.”
Cheek later turned to Bishop, saying, “I thought this girl did some good things after halftime after we kind of challenged her.”
Rachel Steinhoff scored a game-high 17 points for New Haven, which made only 9 of 34 shots and was held 15 points below its scoring average.