Lady Birds continue postseason mastery of Panthers by winning another district crown


Palmyra's Bella McBride, right, pressures South Shelby's Callie McWilliams during Friday night's Class 3 District 6 championship game in Palmyra, Mo. | Photo courtesy Alicia Deming

PALMYRA, Mo. — While the regular season matchups belonged to Palmyra, the South Shelby girls basketball team still owns the postseason.

The second-seeded Lady Birds outscored the top-seeded Panthers 21-2 during a 6 1/2-minute stretch beginning late in the third quarter Friday night to erase a six-point deficit and pull away for a 63-50 victory to claim the Class 3 District 6 championship.

Junior forward Belle Roush scored 10 of her game-high 19 points during that pivotal stretch and South Shelby hit 12 of 15 free throws in the final period to beat Palmyra in the district championship game for the third consecutive season.

With the victory, the Lady Birds avenged a last-second 64-61 loss to the Panthers in the Monroe City Tournament finals in December and a 50-44 Clarence Cannon Conference setback in early February, a game in which they were outscored 15-2 over the final 3 1/2 minutes.

South Shelby (22-6) will host Elsberry, a 41-39 winner over Duchesne, Monday night in the sectional round.

“I thought we played well in the first half, but we didn’t rebound very well, and I thought we didn’t play with enough pace,” said South Shelby coach Luke O’Laughlin, whose team trailed by as many as eight points and was down 28-23 at intermission.

“And that’s what we challenged them to do. I told them at halftime, ‘I guarantee that if you come out and keep them off the offensive glass, hold them to one shot every time and play with tempo and quit playing against the set defense, you’re going to win the game.’”

The switch to full-court zone defensive pressure was a major factor in the Lady Birds’ second-half turnaround, although it wasn’t until the final two minutes of the third period that it began to take hold.

The Panthers led 39-33 after Alaina Loman cut along the right baseline and took a pass from Candra King for a layup with 2:20 left in the quarter. But Loman, fouled on the play, missed the ensuing free throw.

Palmyra made only 4 of 11 free throw tries in the second half and 5 of 14 overall.

With the Panthers either turning the ball over or missing point-blank shots, South Shelby quickly used two free throws and a driving layup by Roush, and 3-pointers by Hannah Gaines and Reese Maupin to move in front 43-39 with 44 seconds left in the quarter.

“We haven’t run a zone for three years, honestly, but we thought it was something that could give us a little bit of an edge because we’ve seen them struggle against it with other teams,” O’Laughlin said.

“I think sometimes they tried to make a few too many passes against it, or they would get a little rushed at times. It’s high school basketball. People are gonna make mental errors when they’re going faster than their skill set allows.”

Palmyra guard Clare Williams hit a jumper from the lane in the waning seconds to stop the bleeding, only for the Lady Birds to open the fourth quarter by scoring 11 consecutive points. All were the result of attacking the basket for either layups, second-chance putbacks or free throws.

“We had to pick up our aggressiveness and attack the basket,” Roush said. “We got ahead of them in the other two games, but they’re a good team and came back. We decided that we weren’t gonna let that happen again.”

Palmyra, on the other hand, couldn’t buy a basket. The usually reliable Sydney Compton missed consecutive layups after working free inside, and King failed to convert a layup off an inbound pass under her own basket.

The Panthers also turned the ball over three times in the opening three minutes of the period on careless passes trying to penetrate the zone. They finished with 20 turnovers.

“We were prepared for the zone,” Palmyra coach Kelsey Stuart said. “We knew it was going to come. We talked about it at halftime. We were executing everything correctly and getting the ball inside. We just couldn’t make it from three free away from the basket.

“It was just a snowball effect from there.”

King shot an airball from 25 feet and, frustrated, was then whistled for a technical foul for shoving a South Shelby player near midcourt with a little less than four minutes to play. Roush sank both free throws to give the Lady Birds a 54-41 lead.

Williams hit a 3-pointer from the right corner and then stole the inbound pass for a layup seven seconds later to bring Palmyra within 54-46. But those were the only two field goals the hosts would make in 12 attempts in the final quarter.

The Panthers got within 54-48 on two free throws by Taytum White with 1:53 to go, but Kamryn Mitchell followed with a driving, left-handed scoop shot and a free throw after being fouled to push the lead back to nine. The Lady Birds then sank 6 of 8 free throws to close it out.

Guard Callie McWilliams finished with 15 points and center Charlie Roush 10 for South Shelby, which went 21 of 28 from the line. The Lady Birds had only six turnovers in the second half after committing 10 in a mistake-prone first half for both teams.

Williams scored 18 points and King 12 for Palmyra, which, in addition to its free-throw woes, made just 5 of 14 tries from 3-point range and shot 38 percent from the field.

The loss was the third in the final five games for the Panthers, who bowed out at 19-7 after once being ranked seventh in the state.

“It’s very disappointing when you think you should be playing Monday,” Stuart said. “But kudos to South Shelby for battling hard and knowing our weaknesses and executing their game plan.”

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