BOLIVAR -- The Jefferson City Lady Jays had their season come to an end Saturday at the hands of the defending Class 5 state champion West Plains Lady Zizzers at Southwest Baptist University.
The Lady Zizzers took control from the jump and never looked back en route to picking up a 58-38 victory in the Class 5 quarterfinals to clinch their third consecutive Final Four berth.
“That’s a team that won state last year and brought everyone back except the (Ashton) Judd girl that is at Mizzou,” Jefferson City coach Kay Foster said. “… They are very talented, and they are very experienced.”
The loss marks the end of the successful high-school careers for the Lady Jays’ two seniors -- Hannah Linthacum and Emmarie Graham.
The leadership the two seniors brought to the program will leave a lasting legacy.
“Their leadership was huge,” Foster said. “Their leadership and being role models for the rest of the kids on how to conduct themselves is very good. They are just great kids.”
After scoring more than 1,000 points and hauling in more than 1,000 rebounds in her career, Linthacum will now shift her focus to joining her sisters -- Sarah and Micah -- at the University of Missouri next season on the women’s basketball team.
“She’s going to blossom at Mizzou,” Foster said.
West Plains jumped on Jefferson City from the start.
The Lady Zizzers took the lead on two free throws by Allyssa Joiner before Lyric Hearn tied the game at 2 on a layup off an assist from Graham.
Drew Harris knocked down a 3-pointer on the other end to give West Plains the lead for good, as the Lady Zizzers held the Lady Jays to just two first-quarter points while jumping out to an 18-2 lead.
“Yeah, it was nerves,” Foster said. “… They played really tentative and did not attack the basket aggressively.”
Jefferson City switched to a matchup zone early in the second quarter -- a rarity for the Lady Jays this season -- and it slowed down West Plains some, but not enough.
“We were struggling to match up with them man-to-man,” Foster said. “… I thought our kids did a really good job, we haven’t really put a lot of time into that compared to our man-to-man.”
The Lady Jays were able to get their offense going some in the second quarter, as they rebounded from a 1-for-8 (13 percent) shooting performance in the first quarter to make four of nine attempts (44 percent) in the second to trail just 27-11 at the half.
But the Lady Zizzers put the game away in the third with a lights-out performance on offense.
West Plains shot 10-for-14 from the field in the third quarter and put up 26 points to lead 53-26 headed into the fourth.
“At times on a matchup zone you are going to find open shots if you are patient enough,” Foster said. “They were patient enough and worked the ball around to find those open shots.
“To their credit, they had to knock them down and they did.”
Despite facing a 20-plus-point deficit for the entire fourth quarter, Jefferson City fought until the final buzzer.
The Lady Jays held the Lady Zizzers to just five points in the final eight minutes while forcing eight turnovers with bodies diving all over the floor.
“I have never had to coach effort with this group of kids,” Foster said. “They just play hard and you saw that down the stretch. They’ve always left it all out there on the floor.
“That’s all you can ask of from your kids.”
West Plains led by as many as 27 three times -- at 53-26, 55-28 and 57-30 -- but Jefferson City created the final scoring margin by going on an 8-1 run to close the game, ending with an Ella Kinsey 3-pointer from the corner as time expired.
The Lady Jays finished just 15-for-45 (33 percent) from the floor and 3-for-19 (16 percent) from 3, while the Lady Zizzers hit 20 of their 35 shot attempts (57 percent) and 6-for-12 (50 percent) from 3-point range.
“We just couldn’t knock down any 3s, we shot a ton of them,” Foster said. “And to their credit, they knocked them down.
“They had to shoot 60-70 percent. It sure felt like it.”
Linthacum ended with game-highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds for Jefferson City, while Bri Avey was next in scoring with eight.
Kaylee Dixon led West Plains (23-7), ranked fourth in Class 4, with 18 points and Olivia Lawson joined her in double figures with 14.
The Lady Zizzers will take on Lutheran: St. Charles (25-5), ranked sixth in Class 5, at 8 p.m. Friday in the semifinals at Great Southern Bank Arena in Springfield.