SPRINGFIELD — The Jefferson City Lady Jays were ready.
In the week leading up to Friday afternoon's Class 5 semifinal against the Parkway Central Colts, a lot of practice time was spent emphasizing the importance of getting rebounds and preparing to face a man-to-man defense.
It was time well spent.
The Lady Jays finished plus-12 in rebounds and did a good job with the basketball in a 43-29 victory against the Colts at Hammons Student Center.
With the win, top-ranked Jefferson City (29-1) will meet second-ranked North Kansas City (28-2) for the state title tonight at JQH Arena. North Kansas City advanced with a 42-29 win against Republic in Friday's second semifinal.
"It feels great," Jefferson City senior guard Caitlin Anderson said.
For the third straight postseason game, the Lady Jays opened with a big run. Jefferson City scored on five of its first six possessions to take an 11-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
Parkway Central had three turnovers and two one-and-done possessions in that span.
"Fortunately, they came out a little cold and we knocked down some shots," Jefferson City coach Brad Conway said. "That gave us a lot of confidence."
It definitely wasn't the start the Colts wanted.
"We wanted to make sure we enjoyed the moment, but also go to work when you get on the floor," Parkway Central coach Brian Guilfoyle said. "It took us a little while to kind of get our bearings."
Jefferson City led by as many as 12 points in the quarter, that coming at 16-4 after a 3-pointer by Hannah Nilges in the final minute. The Lady Jays led 16-6 after the first quarter.
The start of the second quarter wasn't pretty for either team. A jumper in the paint by Jayla Kelly a minute into the quarter got the Colts back to within single digits.
Neither team scored again until a pair of free throws by Sarah Linthacum gave Jefferson City a 10-point lead with 4:46 to go before halftime. The Lady Jays didn't score on their first five possessions in the quarter.
"We went stagnant, had some turnovers and didn't knock down some shots," Conway said. "But we held our composure pretty well."
The Lady Jays' lead fluctuated between eight and 11 points for much of the remainder of the half before Anderson hit a jumper with :07 remaining to give Jefferson City at 26-13 advantage at intermission.
Jefferson City finished with a 21-13 edge in rebounds in the first two quarters.
"In the first half, we didn't box out," Guilfoyle said.
Kara Daly of the Lady Jays had seven of Jefferson City's rebounds.
"Coach Conway was preaching at practice we needed to not let them get rebounds," Daly, who also had eight first-half points, said. "Getting rebounds stops them from getting easy points on offense."
The third quarter was much like the second as both teams had problems putting points in the board.
"It didn't look like either team wanted to score," Conway said. "But we were solid defensively, we got some big rebounds and created some turnovers."
Jefferson City didn't score until Daly hit a basket with 3:16 left. But Parkway Central had scored just two points of its own in that span.
"We missed way too many layups to be successful," Guilfoyle said. "We just missed a lot of easy shots."
A jumper by Anderson with :08 remaining in the quarter gave Jefferson City a 33-20 lead. But Parkway Central's Olivia Stephens hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut the Colts' deficit to 10 with one quarter remaining.
"I thought that was going to set us up for a run," Stephens said.
So did Guilfoyle.
"I felt the momentum shifting toward us," he said.
But that run never came. The Colts did get the first basket of the fourth quarter to trim the Lady Jays' lead to eight at 33-25. Jefferson City was scoreless in the quarter until a layup by Anderson got the lead back to 10 with 5:18 remaining.
That sparked a pivotal 8-2 run in the next two-plus minutes that helped seal the win for Jefferson City. Daly had four points in the spurt, capped by a Linthacum layup that gave Jefferson City its biggest lead of the game at 43-27.
"We got it back to double digits and that took a lot of the pressure off," Conway said.
Stephens hit a pair of free throws with 1:26 remaining to make it 43-29. Jefferson City then ran the rest of the time off the clock to get the victory.
"We did a good job taking care of the basketball," Conway said.
Stephens paced ninth-ranked Parkway Central (23-7) with 13 points. Kelly, a 6-foot-3 junior who entered the game averaging a double-double, finished with four points and five rebounds.
"They are really physical, we didn't get our body on them as much as we needed to," Kelly said. "They're a very physical, strong team and we didn't match that as much as we wanted to."
The Colts shot 10-of-35 (29 percent) from the field.
"We didn't take a lot of crazy shots, we didn't take a lot of 3-pointers," Guilfoyle said. "Jeff City is a very long team that will alter your shots and you have to concentrate and try to go through the contact."
Daly finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds for Jefferson City, while Linthacum came off the bench to add 10 points. Anderson totaled nine points, eight rebounds and six assists.
The Lady Jays will be looking for the first state title in program history when they take on the Hornets at 8:10 p.m. today. Jefferson City has finished second twice and third in its three previous Final Four appearances. This is North Kansas City's first trip to the Final Four.
North Kansas City got 20 points from LaJahda Boyland (5-11, sr.) and 12 from Ja'mya Powell-Smith (5-4, soph.) in its semifinal victory against Republic. Chandler Prater (5-9, sr.) led North Kansas City with 11 rebounds as the Hornets finished with a 34-20 edge on the boards.