End of the line
Lady Bulldogs suffer 49-36 defeat to Cape Central
DEXTER -- Sikeston girls basketball coach Matt Schonhoff knew if his team had any shot of upsetting Cape Central in the first round of the district tournament, they would have to find a way to contain Alayah Cooper-Johnson.
For a half, his team did just that, limiting the senior standout to eight points.
But Cooper-Johnson took over in the second half, finishing the game with 22 points and 20 rebounds, to lead her team to a 49-36 victory over the sixth-seeded Lady Bulldogs in the Class 4, District 1 Tournament at the Bearcat Event Center in Dexter.
The third-seeded Lady Tigers advance to the semifinals where they will play No. 2 seed Notre Dame tomorrow at 7:30.
Sikeston's season ends at 6-18.
"We were very determined in what we wanted to do," Schonhoff said. "I thought we had a good gameplan. In the first half I thought we did a really good job with it. We told the girls leading up to the game and during the game that as the six seed, you put everything out there. You don't leave anything on the floor. We don't want excuses on 'what could have been or what should have been if I had played harder.' And I thought they did that. They put out so much effort that in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, we just didn't have the gas left."
The Lady Bulldogs hung right with Cape Central (12-13), holding the lead in the early second quarter and trailing just 20-16 at the half.
Sikeston still only trailed 22-21 after Mikala Nichols hit a 3-pointer with 5:59 left in the third quarter, but Cape Central went on a 17-4 run, led by Cooper-Johnson's 10 points in the period, to extend the lead beyond the Lady Bulldogs' reach.
The run finally was snapped when Nichols hit a 3-pointer toward the end of the third, but the Lady Tigers still held a comfortable 39-28 lead going into the fourth.
"When they made that run, we didn't get back on defense," Schonhoff said. A lot of that was transition stuff and we didn't get back."
The Lady Bulldogs stepped up its defense in the fourth quarter, limiting Cape Central to just one field goal, but they could not make a dent, getting no closer than nine points in the final frame.
The Lady Tigers were able to ice the game by hitting all eight of its free throw attempts in the fourth.
The 5-foot-8 Cooper-Johnson, who seemed to be everywhere from tracking down loose balls, to grabbing every rebound in sight, dominated the second half.
"She carried us tonight," Cape Central coach Sherri Shirrell said. "We rely on her a lot and teams know that so they focus on her defensively but I thought she played through it and played a good game."
Schonhoff's plan for containing Cooper-Johnson was shading her with a box-and-one defense.
The plan worked for a while with freshman Erica Peet and senior Yolonda Johnson doing the bulk of the defensive duties on her.
"I thought defensively, with Erica and Yolonda, they did a tremendous job defensively with the box-and-one," Schonhoff said. "But she got those easy layups on the transition part and she was able to score on offensive rebounds."
The Lady Bulldogs ran out to a 6-3 lead behind three straight baskets by freshman Hayli Chapman.
The Lady Tigers were able to close the quarter strong, taking a 9-8 lead after one.
Sikeston, getting a boost with the return of senior Aleah Little from an ankle injury, reclaimed the lead in the second quarter as she scored four points along with another Chapman basket to lead 14-12 with 5:30 left in the half.
Cooper-Johnson then scored on consecutive baskets to give her team the lead for good. The Lady Tigers led by as much as 20-14 before Nichols drained a shot to cut the lead to four heading into halftime.
It was Nichols' first basket after struggling to find the mark through the first half. She heated up in the third quarter, scoring 12 of her team-high 18 points in the period.
"There at the beginning she was rushing her shot," Schonhoff said of Nichols. "Hayli stepped up and did a good job of scoring for us there in the first quarter. But Mikala settled down in the second half. When she settled down and was nice and relaxed, she is a very, very good shooter."
But the Lady Bulldogs were dealt a blow before the second half even started when Peet started experiencing a health issue that arose at halftime.
Schonhoff erred on the side of caution and made the decision to sit her the rest of the game.
"Obviously in the first half we were able to sub in a lot of people and keep in fresh bodies and I think that worked in our favor," Schonhoff said. "In the second half Erica wasn't able to play and that shortened our bench. That took a defender away and a rebounder away. I thought the girls battled as hard as they could, but we just ran out of gas."
Chapman and Little each finished up with eight points. It was Little's first action in over a month after suffering a ripped deltoid tendon in her ankle in a game against Poplar Bluff on Jan. 17.
"She was off for a month and only had one practice," Schonhoff said. "I thought her heart was as big as anybody out there on the floor. She gave us everything that she could. But not being able to get up and down the court for a month, obviously that crept up in the middle of the third and the fourth quarter."
It was the third time Cape Central had defeated Sikeston this year, but the last two matchups were much closer than the 55-25 drubbing in December.
"They've improved a lot since we played them at the Christmas tournament," Shirrell said of Sikeston. "They've got some very good players, they're very fundamental. They've got a lot of potential."
Sikeston will graduate four seniors from the team in Little, Johnson, Brianna Sherrell and Trenice Greer, but with numerous underclassmen, Schonhoff is hopeful his team learned some valuable lessons this year.
"I thought after Christmas we could have been a really dangerous basketball team," Schonhoff said. "In some games we were. I thought overall the seniors did a good job of leading and the younger kids grew up. And hopefully they'll understand and see what they need to do to be even better for next year."
SIKESTON (36) --Mikala Nichols 18, Hayli Chapman 8, Aleah Little 8, Erica Peet 2. FG 13, FT 2-4, F 15. (3-pointers: Nichols 2. Fouled out: Nichols).
CAPE CENTRAL (49) -- Alayah Cooper-Johnson 22, Katie Williams 8, Bailey Kratochvil 7, Kassidy Pannier 5, Elizabeth Kight 2, Bailey Bliss 2, Kelly Morton 2, Kadison Orenstein 1. FG 15, FT 13-15, F 8. (3-pointers: Kratochvil 1, Pannier 1. Fouled out: none).