Kickapoo girls basketball coach Jim Pendergrass made his players pay an exit fee for 50 made free throws at their recent practices, and now the Chiefs know Pendergrass isn’t crazy.
Kickapoo shots 25-of-30 from the free throw line Monday night to score a 61-59 win at Hillcrest. Junior guard Laura Vierkant scored 15 points and shot 8-of-10 from the line, and she scored her final three points from the stripe in the final 15.8 seconds.
“Free throws were definitely very important. Coach P., always every practice has been having us shoot, making 50 free throws, so we’ve really been working on that,” Vierkant said. “We know when it comes down to games like this they are crucial.”
“That’s pretty hard when somebody makes 25 free throws,” Hillcrest coach Jeni Hopkins said. “If you break the game down it’s what it came down to, they made their free throws, we didn’t.”
The Chiefs went 15-of-18 from the line in the fourth quarter alone. Hillcrest, by contrast went 17-of-25 from the stripe. Kickapoo survived Kelsie Cleeton’s 31-point scoring onslaught to hold on for a win.
Kickapoo’s scoring lines looked more balanced with Vierkant’s 15, senior Natalie Closser with 14 and senior guard Jordyn Danzer with 10 points.
“We have a lot of balanced scoring, but (Closser and Vierkant) stepped up and made shots when we needed to make some shots to try to knife through their defense,” Pendergrass said.
Vierkant scored nine points in the second half. The former point guard moved to shooting guard at the request of her coaches.
“She’s knocked down a lot of shots and she’s been able to get into the paint. She works on her game on her own, and that’s a credit to her and it’s made her better,” Pendergrass said of the junior.
Kickapoo threw several different defenses at Hillcrest in an effort to stop Cleeton, and settled on a box-and-one in the fourth quarter.
“(Cleeton) is used to seeing that and she’s pretty good about making that work for us and we try to help her with our offense,” Hopkins said.
Cleeton knocked down two desperation 3-pointers in the final 22 seconds of the game, but Kickapoo held on to escape with a win. The Chiefs made Cleeton their defensive focal point for four quarters.
“We tried to know where (Cleeton) was and she scored a lot of points,” Pendergrass said.
“I think we did a really good job of communicating where she was at and we did the best we could,” Vierkant said of defending Cleeton.
Kickapoo, ranked No. 3 in the Missouri Class 5 coaches’ poll, improves to 9-3 and plays at Central Thursday night. Hillcrest, No. 7 in Class 4, falls to 8-5 and plays at Parkview Thursday.
Hopkins says the Hornets can learn from the loss and use it to improve in time for the district playoffs in March.
“We’ll get there. We are right there and I couldn’t be more proud of our girls and our effort,” Hopkins said. “We can compete and if we can just make some adjustments here and there, we’ll be playing our best basketball when we need to.”