Incarnate Word wins 7th state title in the last 10 years; Chaminade falls in championship game

The defending state champions ruled in two state basketball finals involving Catholic schools from the archdiocese. Incarnate Word Academy earned its second consecutive championship in the Class 4 girls game, while Chaminade College Prep fought hard in the boys Class 5 game but lost to defending champion Webster Groves High School.

Incarnate Word's win

Incarnate Word defended the Class 4 girls championship with a 69-35 win over Carl Junction on March 17 at the JQH Arena in Springfield, Mo. The title was the seventh in the past 10 years for Incarnate Word and ninth overall.

Coach Dan Rolfes praised the seniors for their leadership and credit the team for its stifling defense, which made the difference against Carl Junction.

"I loved our defense tonight, and to me that's Incarnate Word basketball," he said.

The Red Knights held Carl Junction to just 28 percent shooting in the second half and gained important points off turnovers. According to senior guard Sonya Morris, Incarnate Word's defense was lacking early in the season, "until we started playing with a chip on our shoulder."

Meanwhile, Incarnate Word shot 56 percent in the first half and 68 percent the second half, when they made all six of their 3-point shots. Rather than forcing shots, the Red Knights passed the ball to find open shots. That's indicative of team chemistry evolving throughout the season,and the players knowing each other's tendencies, strengths and weaknesses.

The Red Knights, which finished 27-5, also overcame a tendency to take victories for granted early on, and "everybody stepped up (during the season)," said junior guard Marisa Warren, who had seven points and six rebounds in the final.

"We knew we couldn't take anything for granted," said Morris, who scored 17 points. "At this point everybody is good, so the more confidence you have, the better you play overall."

Senior guard Nakayla Jackson-Morris led the Red Knights with 18 points in the final.

Carl Junction coach Brad Shorter described Incarnate Word as a "very good, well-coached team" that presented a match-up that was "a nightmare for us." He also praised the team's ability to stay calm, as well as its depth.

In the semifinals, Jackson-Morris scored the winning basket as Incarnate Word defeated Kearney 49-47 in overtime. Rickie Woltman had 14 points and six rebounds; Jackson-Morris finished with 12 points.

The Red Knights appeared in the Final Four for the 10th straight season. They advanced to the semifinals with a 58-43 win over MICDS behind 18 points from Morris.

St. Joseph's Academy finished third in the state tournament with a 49-48 win over Liberty. Alexandra Kerr led with 22 points and added seven rebounds.

Chaminade's effort

Chaminade came back strong twice against defending Class 5 champion Webster Groves in a display of athleticism — high-flying scoring, ballhandling and rebounding by both teams — in the state title game March 17, but Webster Groves won 101-90. Chaminade narrowed an early 10-point deficit to 39-36 at halftime. Then Webster Groves busted out a 19-point lead in the second half before Chaminade whittled it to the points.

After the game, Webster Groves coach Jay Blossom praised his opponent, saying, "I have a lot of respect for what Chaminade does. Those kids never quit."

Senior Jericole Hellems led Chaminade with 32 points and 10 rebounds. Jadis White had 14 points while Luke Kasube and Harrison Vickers each had 12.

Chaminade Coach Frank Bennett praised Hellems' tangible abilities as a player but also his intangible qualities as a leader and mentor for the younger players. "As a coach, you hope when seniors graduate they leave a lot behind," said Bennett, who also praised the other seniors and the team managers.

They've "done an excellent job all their career," he said, noting that they've come a long way since arriving at Chaminade still looking and acting like boys. Then, "before you know it they're men ready to tackle the world. I'm proud of all of them, even though we didn't win it all."

The players are "really good young men who worked their tails off to be the type of basketball players and young men that they are today. That's what you hope for each year," Bennett said.

Their talent showed during the game and in their 27-3 season. "God blessed these kids with some athleticism and ability, and all that's on display tonight for everybody," he said.

Chaminade reached the finals by beating Rock Bridge of Columbia 80-77 in the semifinals March 16. Chaminade trailed 46-30 at halftime and 64-55 after three periods. Hellems had 31 points and 11 rebounds and Jadis White added 20 points.

Chaminade, which won the title in 2016, made the Final Four for the fourth year in a row. The Red Devils got there this time with a 79-72 win vs. Hazelwood Central in the Class 5 quarterfinals March 10. Hellems scored 27 points and had 12 rebounds. White had 17 points.

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