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Lady Jays to face Parkway Central in Class 5 semifinals

Lady Jays to face Parkway Central in Class 5 semifinals

March 15th, 2019 by Tom Rackers in Sports Prep

The Lady Jays listen to coach Brad Conway during a timeout in a game this season against Miller Career at Fleming Fieldhouse. Jefferson City will face Parkway Central this afternoon in the Class 5 semifinals in Springfield.

Photo by Jenna Kieser /News Tribune.

It promises to be a notable couple of days.

But the Jefferson City Lady Jays know there's work to be done.

"We're going to make great memories, but this is business, too," Jefferson City coach Brad Conway said as the Lady Jays get set to face the Parkway Central Colts at noon today in the Class 5 semifinals at the Hammons Student Center in Springfield.

Jefferson City (28-1, ranked No. 1 by the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association) has done nothing special this week to prepare for the Final Four.

"We've come in and gotten to work," Conway said. "Practice has been no different than it's been all season.

"It's been business as usual."

It's the first-ever Final Four appearance for the Parkway Central girls program. The Colts (23-6, ranked No. 9) were the No. 2 seed in District 4 and defeated St. Joseph's Academy (56-51) and top-seeded Kirkwood (49-41) to win the title.

Parkway Central edged Marquette 58-53 in the sectionals before defeating Jackson 51-37 in last Saturday's quarterfinals.

The Colts, who have won their last 10 games, start one senior and four juniors.

Jayla Kelly (6-3, jr.) leads Parkway Central at 13.0 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. Olivia Stephens (5-8, sr.) is next at 11.6 points, while Claudia Cooke (6-0, jr.) totals 8.7 points and 4.3 rebounds.

"They've got a nice inside game to go along with some girls who can shoot it outside," Conway said.

Parkway Central averages 51.3 points per game and with Kelly and Cooke inside, the Colts like to get the ball close to the basket.

"Whether it's through post entry or dribble-drive through the paint," Conway said. "We want to defend inside-out."

The Colts, who allow 46.8 points per game, primarily play a half-court man defense.

"But we've prepared to see a little bit of everything," Conway said.

Since Conway arrived three-plus seasons ago, Jefferson City has taken pride in its defense.

"It all started from my first day here," Conway said. "Offense can take time to gel, but defense is going to be in our DNA."

Conway said the Lady Jays were "OK" defensively in his first two seasons. But starting in Year 3, the team started to really lock teams down and Jefferson City is giving up just 31.2 points per game this season.

"The repetition we've had has made us play good defense," he said. "We spend 20-30 minutes every practice concentrating on what we want to do entering the next game.

"They've embraced it, it's become second nature. Defense doesn't get your name in the paper. But defensively, we can have a consistent effort every game."

And that defense can lead to turnovers, which can lead to baskets on the other end of the floor.

"We can create some easy scoring opportunities with our defense," Conway said. "Offensively, we can have bad shooting nights. But defense should be our constant and they have really locked in and it's made us a better team.

"We are seeing the dividends of them buying in."

The Lady Jays start three seniors and two sophomores.

Caitlin Anderson (5-6, sr.) shares the top spot for the Lady Jays in scoring (12 ppg), leads in assists (4.8) and is third in rebounds (5.0).

"She's our engine, the way she goes, we go," Conway said.

Anderson, who has signed to play at Indiana State, has started at point guard for the Lady Jays all four years.

"She's grown as a player and an individual," Conway said. "She can lead us in scoring, but if she doesn't, she's getting assists and pulling down rebounds while playing good defense."

Micah Linthacum (6-3, sr.) has returned to the starting lineup after missing about six weeks in the middle of the season with an injury. She's been back for the last seven games.

"It took her a couple of games to get back into the flow of things," Conway said.

The Missouri signee provides a presence on the floor for Jefferson City.

"Having her out there is important," Conway said. "She was really coming into her own before she got injured.

"Since she's been back, she hasn't had any big scoring games, but she's been contributing."

Linthacum is averaging 8 points and 3.2 rebounds.

"There's a lot of potential there, she's still growing as a player," Conway said.

Greta Haarmann (5-10, sr.) totals 5 points and 3 rebounds per contest.

"Her scoring is down, but she's contributing in a lot of other areas that you don't see in numbers," Conway said.

Hannah Nilges (5-6, soph.) is Jefferson City's deep shooting threat. She is hitting two 3-pointers among her 10.5 points per game to pull defenses away from the basket while averaging a pair of assists.

"She has really grown in the past year," Conway said. "She has improved so much on the defensive end."

Kara Daly (6-1, soph.) rounds out the starting lineup. Daly entered the starting lineup due to injuries last season.

"She has really grown after being thrown into the fire as a freshman," Conway said. "She is such a competitor, you are going to get her best effort on both ends."

Daly averages 12 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

"She's become a consistent scorer and defensively, she can go out and guard nearly every position," Conway said.

Sarah Linthacum (6-2, soph.) has been a starter this season and is now the first player off the bench, whether it is to replace a post player or a guard.

"She is so valuable in that role," Conway said. "She wants to win and whatever we ask her to do, she'll do."

Lithacum is second on the team in rebounds (6.5) and assists (2) while averaging 8 points.

Jefferson City and Parkway Central have four common opponents — Incarnate Word, Troy, Rock Bridge and Hazelwood Central. The Lady Jays were a combined 4-1 against those teams, while the Colts were 2-3.

"You really can't take anything away from that, we played them at different times of the season," Conway said.

Jefferson City has been been close to advancing to the Final Four the past two seasons, falling to eventual state champion Kirkwood in the quarterfinals in 2017 before being upset by Francis Howell Central in last year's sectional.

"This team is more mature with our seniors," Conway said. "And the sophomores, who got thrown into the fire last year, have continued to get better and adapt to playing varsity basketball."

It would have been a disappointment not to make it to Springfield this year.

"Our expectations were so high, the girls knew this was there for the taking," Conway said. "I know I would have been because I know how hard the girls worked to try to get to this point."

Jefferson City entered the season with three goals — win its three regular-season tournaments, win districts to get into the state tournament, then get to the "big" tournament — the Final Four.

"We're in the semifinals of the big tournament, enjoy it, but we've still got business to do," Conway said.

"Is it a big game? Yes," he added. "But it is just another game."

Today's other semifinal will pit second-ranked North Kansas City (27-2) against unranked Republic (22-8) at 1:40 p.m.

Action will shift to JQH Arena on Saturday. The third-place game will start at 12:50 p.m., with the championship game slated for an 8:10 p.m. tip.