Girls Nearly Knock Off Top Seed Whitfield

Maggie Callihan is introduced before the district playoff game against Kennedy on Feb. 22 at John Burroughs. (All photos by Steve Bowman)
Maggie Callihan is introduced before the district playoff game against Kennedy on Feb. 22 at John Burroughs. (All photos by Steve Bowman)

Bad bounce stops trick play, ends season in district semifinal

 
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
Email: bowmansj@sbcglobal.net

Chris Jones had one last trick up his sleeve and it almost worked.

His Brentwood High School girls basketball team trailed Whitfield by two points with 3 seconds left in the semifinals of the district playoffs on Feb. 24 at John Burroughs. A Whitfield player was at the free-throw line to shoot a one-and-one. To Brentwood fans it might have looked hopeless. Even if she missed and an Eagle got the rebound, how do you score in three seconds? What girls high school team has time to perfect such a play?

Nija Price (left) and Megan Jones harrass a Kennedy player.
Nija Price (left) and Megan Jones trap Kennedy’s Hannah Burjoski.

Actually, Brentwood does. Jones has a trick play for such occasions and he has run it about a half dozen times this season, often successfully.

It looked like it would work this time as well. While the players lined up for the free throw, guard Abby Harper stepped toward the BHS bench on the opposite end of the floor and pretended to have a conversation with Jones. Whitfield seemed to forget about her and left her uncovered.

Jones’s heart jumped. He knew that a missed free throw would most likely be grabbed by his 6-foot center, Sophia Rivera, who already had 16 rebounds on the night. The state champion in the shot put and discus throw, Rivera was more than capable of throwing a long strike to Harper for a routine layup before the buzzer.

“Abby had the whole half court to herself and we had 3.1 seconds to score,” said Jones. “We would have had a layup and it would have gone into overtime.”

Sure enough, the shooter missed the first free throw, but the ball took what Jones called “a long, weird bounce” and caromed out of Rivera’s reach. A Warrior got the rebound and Brentwood fouled her with two seconds left. She made the first shot for a 3-point lead and missed the second but the Eagles’ Hail Mary wasn’t close. Whitfield won 54-51 and went on to beat John Burroughs by 26 for the district title.

Gabby Gombas heads out to play Kennedy.
With a whoop, Gabby Gombas heads out to play Kennedy.

Jones hated to lose but he appreciated what had just happened. His fourth-seeded team had come one basket from beating Whitfield, now 25-3 and the fifth-ranked small school in the St. Louis area. Little Brentwood — a team so small they had to scrap the JV program to have enough players, a team that started out 3-6 and ended up 19-8 and with a conference title.

“For sure it was our best effort of the year, hands down, no question,” said Jones. “The girls played very, very hard and I’m very proud of them.”

Sophia Rivera has no trouble winning the tip-off against JFK.
Sophia Rivera has no trouble winning the tip-off against JFK’s Lauren Mushinski.

BHS reached the semifinal by hammering fifth-seeded Kennedy by 22 in the first round. The game was close at first, 4-4 into the second quarter, but Brentwood’s shooting improved and JFK’s didn’t. The Celts made only 9 percent of their 2-point attempts. Jones called it “one of our worst games of the year. We beat them by 22 but we still played horribly.”

But Brentwood had no such slow start two nights later against Whitfield. The Eagles scored 23 points in the first quarter and led by 5.

“I was worried about Whitfield’s press, so the game plan was to send my two girls deep and we just tore it up,” said Jones. “We’d get it across the floor in two passes, bam bam, and we had probably 12 points from layups and 23 points in the quarter, which is crazy against that team.”

The Warriors finally recovered in the second period and led by 2 at halftime behind the scoring of 6-foot forward Aijha Blackwell, who ended up with 29 points. Rivera was hampered with three fouls by halftime.

“The big thing is we couldn’t stop Aijha Blackwell from penetrating,” said Jones. “We tried to make adjustments and Sophia got in foul trouble. They had a lot of contact on her so she had trouble making shots. They were really light contact fouls but the guy called them.”

Brentwood managed only 4 points in the third period and trailed by 8 in the fourth. But despite that, and Rivera’s and point guard Marshelle Franklin’s foul trouble, they tied it with about 30 seconds left. Blackwell scored to regain the lead for Whitfield. Brentwood, unable to score, intentionally fouled, which set up the trick play that was foiled by a bad bounce.

“We had them rattled there toward the end,” said Jones. “They made some mistakes. We ran some out-of-bounds plays and scored some easy 2-footers. I only yelled about two things the whole game, that’s how well we played.”

Abby Harper drives to the basket against JFK.
Abby Harper drives to the basket against JFK.

Rivera, Franklin, Price among St. Louis leaders
Three Eagles rank highly among St. Louis area players in four statistical categories. Rivera is No. 4 in blocks per game with 4.32 and No. 17 in rebounds with 10.2. Franklin is No. 7 in steals per game with 4.78 and No. 17 in assists with 4.37. Nija Price is No. 12 in steals with 4.38.

Marshelle Franklin disrupts a JFK pass.
Marshelle Franklin disrupts a Kennedy pass.

Feb. 24: lost to Whitfield 54-51
Key stats: Brentwood had 11 more rebounds but Whitfield committed nine fewer turnovers. BHS leaders: Sophia Rivera, 17 points (7-16 FG), 16 rebounds; Nija Price, 16 points (5-14 FG); Maggie Callihan, 13 points (5-15 FG), 3 steals; Marshelle Franklin, 6 assists, 4 blocks, 3 steals; . Whitfield leader: Aijha Blackwell, 29 points (13-24 FG), 13 rebounds.

In this photo and the one below, Abby Harper knocks the ball loose from a Kennedy player and Nija Price grabs it.
In this photo and the one below, Abby Harper wrestles the ball loose from a Kennedy player and Nija Price grabs it.

SJB_6787 Nija Price, Abby Harper

Feb. 22: beat Kennedy 49-27
After one of its slowest starts of the season, 4 points in the first eight minutes, Brentwood went on a 14-2 run to take control of the game, and nailed it shut with a 16-7 run in the third period. Key stat: JFK shot a stunning 9 percent from 2-point range. BHS leaders: Nija Price, 12 points (3-11 FG), 6 steals; Sophia Rivera, 10 points (5-13 FG), 11 rebounds, 10 blocks; Marshelle Franklin, 4 assists; Abby Harper, 4 assists. JFK leaders: Hannah Burjoski, 10 points (3-13 FG); Sam Bogard, 14 rebounds.

Amanda Ingersoll covers Jane Doe of JFK.
Amanda Ingersoll covers Kennedy’s Melissa Schmittgens.

Brentwood’s final 2015-16 record: 19-8
Nov. 30: lost to Timberland 50-29 at Orchard Farm Tourn.
Dec. 2: beat Orchard Farm 41-40 at Orchard Farm Tourn.
Dec. 4: lost to Fort Zumwalt North 48-17 at Orchard Farm Tourn.
Dec. 7: lost to McKinley 41-38
Dec. 9: lost to Lift for Life 32-22
Jan. 4: beat Soldan 52-50 at John Burroughs Tourn.
Jan. 6: beat Roosevelt 51-16 at John Burroughs Tourn.
Jan. 8: lost to John Burroughs 39-23 at Burroughs Tourn.
Jan. 11: lost to Clayton 55-34
Jan. 12: beat Crossroads 51-16
Jan. 13: beat Trinity Catholic 47-38
Jan. 15: beat Villa Duchesne 37-35
Jan. 23: beat Liberty Wentzville 54-49 at Affton Tourn.
Jan. 25: lost to Clayton 51-36 at Affton Tourn.
Jan. 26: beat Windsor 46-45 at Affton Tourn.
Jan. 29: beat Valley Park 56-20
Feb. 1: beat Kennedy 57-31
Feb. 2: beat Crossroads 61-18
Feb. 3: beat Hancock 81-11
Feb. 5: beat Maplewood-Richmond Heights 79-12
Feb. 8: beat Bayless 79-16
Feb. 9: beat Hancock 74-13
Feb. 12: beat Bayless 73-33
Feb. 16: beat Valley Park 64-23
Feb. 17: beat Orchard Farm 53-38
Class 3 District 4 playoffs at John Burroughs:
Feb. 22: beat Kennedy 49-27
Feb. 24: lost to Whitfield 54-51

Logan Darrow shoots from the outside.
Logan Darrow shoots from the outside over Casey Sowell.
Megan Jones shoots from close range.
Megan Jones shoots from close range.
Brentwood coach Chris Jones, above and below, wonders why his team is starting so slowly against Kennedy, scoring only 4 points in the first quarter.
Brentwood coach Chris Jones, above and below, wonders why his team is starting so slowly against Kennedy, scoring only 4 points in the first quarter.

SJB_7031 Chris Jones

Maggie Callihan eyes a rebound.
Maggie Callihan (right) and Kennedy’s Kaitlyn Kohm eye a rebound.
Gabby Gombas shoots from inside.
Gabby Gombas shoots from inside.
Sophia Rivera outreaches a JFK player for a rebound.
Sophia Rivera outreaches Samantha Bogard for a rebound.
Marshelle Franklin scores on a layup.
Marshelle Franklin scores on a layup.
Undefended, Abby Harper shoots from outside.
Undefended, Abby Harper shoots from outside.
Nija Price passes to Sophia Rivera.
Nija Price flips the ball over Kaitlyn Kohm to Sophia Rivera.
Above and below, Amanda Ingersoll drives the baseline for a layup.
Above and below, Amanda Ingersoll drives the baseline for a layup over Lauren Mushinski.

SJB_6990 Amanda Ingersoll

Logan Darrow starts a fast break, pursued by Kennedy's Hannah Burjoski.
Logan Darrow starts a fast break, pursued by Kennedy’s Hannah Burjoski.
Sophia Rivera rises above the crowd to launch a shot.
Sophia Rivera rises above the crowd to launch a shot.
After getting a rebound, Megan Jones gets Brentwood back on offense.
After getting a rebound, Megan Jones gets Brentwood back on offense, covered by Casey Sowell.
Gabby Gombas fights JFK's Lauren Mushinski for a rebound.
Gabby Gombas fights JFK’s Lauren Mushinski for a rebound.
Above and below, Nija Price finds an open slot to the basket and plays tight defense on Kennedy's Jill Jones.
Above and below, Nija Price finds an open slot to the basket and plays tight defense on Kennedy’s Abigail Schueppert.

SJB_6897 Nija Price

Sophia Rivera latches onto the ball.
Sophia Rivera latches onto the ball.
Marshelle Franklin defends Kennedy's Jill Jones.
Marshelle Franklin defends Kennedy’s Casey Sowell.

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