QUINCY — By the time she finally had a chance to sit and relax for a moment, Caydee Kirkham felt the aftereffects of spending 39 of the 40 minutes in the inaugural Muddy River Showcase girls basketball game on the floor.
“My legs are cramping a lot,” she said. “But it was fun, so that’s OK.”
Winning typically takes away the pain.
Despite being limited to six players because of injuries and scheduling conflicts, the Illinois all-stars outran and outlasted Missouri in a 67-55 victory Saturday afternoon at John Wood Community College’s Student Activity Center.
“We proved we could play,” Illinois guard Brooklyn Steifel said.
The Land of Lincolners proved they were in shape, too.
“Uh, I don’t know about that,” Stiefel said with a laugh.
She conceded the Illinois squad had stayed active since basketball season ended.
“I don’t think many of us were in basketball shape, but I think we were all in pretty good shape,” Stiefel said.
It allowed four of the six players on the short-handed crew to play 35 or more minutes.
“I think we’re all tired, but I think we’re all still on the rush of adrenaline,” Stiefel said.
Leading by six at halftime, Illinois seized control with a nine-point run in the third quarter for a 44-29 edge. Hallie Ray and Kirkham — both Illini West products — each made two field goals in the spurt, while Illinois’ defense took hold at the same time.
Missouri was held to two field goals in the first five minutes of the second half despite having a significant size advantage.
“They put a lot of ball pressure on us, which made it hard to make the entry pass,” Missouri point guard Hannah Feeney said. “We definitely should have taken advantage of our size more.”
Negating it by running was Illinois’ plan.
“I feel like that’s Illinois basketball,” Stiefel said. “We like to get out and run and push the ball up the floor and hit our shots.”
It’s just not as easy with a six-player roster.
“Because we were low on size, we were going to try to push the ball,” Kirkham said. “But also, we were low on numbers. It kind of caught up to us at the end and we were pretty tired, but we pushed through it.”
Missouri chiseled the double-digit deficit down to 56-48 after Delaney Straus scored in the paint with 4 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Kirkham answered by scoring the next six points, cementing the lead with a 3-pointer off a turnover with three minutes to play.
“The Kirkham girl is tough,” Missouri coach Reed Plunkett said. “She is going to score a lot of points in college.”
Kirkham, who is headed to Coe College, earned MVP honors for Illinois, scoring 25 points with three rebounds, three assists and three steals.
“I’m extremely lucky to have Caydee play in our program for four years,” said Illinois skipper Grant Surprenant, who coached Kirkham at Illini West. “I’m excited to watch her grow at the next level.”
Stiefel added 14 points for Illinois, while Libby Ippensen had 10 points and nine rebounds and Ray added 10 points. Illinois shot 46 percent from the field.
“It’s a testament to the type of basketball players they are,” Plunkett said.
Straus and Feeney spearheaded the Missouri effort. Straus, the Marion County graduate, finished with 13 points and six rebounds while getting fouled eight times. Feeney, the Scotland County product, had 11 points, seven rebounds and two assists and was named the Missouri MVP.
Feeney took advantage of the knowledge of her teammates gained from playing against them during the season.
“It’s nice knowing their abilities and what their advantages are that they can bring to this team,” Feeney said. “We had scouted everybody playing on our team. So it’s nice as a point guard that I know what they can bring to the floor.”
On both sides, that turned out to be camaraderie and effort that everyone brought to the game.
“I’ve played against all those girls my entire life,” Straus said. “It was really cool to bring the best of my area together just to play, no matter who we play or where we play.”
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