It was the test they were looking for.
"We needed a game like this," Jefferson City coach Brad Conway said Saturday night after the Lady Jays topped the Deer Creek (Okla.) Lady Antlers 55-44 in the semifinals of the Jefferson Bank Holiday Hoops Classic at Rackers Fieldhouse.
"We've played some good competition this season, but Deer Creek is really, really deep. They look to attack, they mix up defenses. They are a very difficult team to play."
It was a battle of top-ranked teams — Jefferson City is No. 1 in Class 5, while Deer Creek is No. 1 in Class 6A in Oklahoma. Both teams may have been a little too amped up at the start as they combined for five turnovers in the first :51 and 11 in the opening four minutes.
"The adrenaline was there, we missed some easy shots and they missed some easy shots before we both kind of settled in," Conway said.
The game was tied at 4 midway through the first quarter before the Lady Jays went on a 14-6 run to take an 18-10 advantage after eight minutes.
"Once we settled down, we played pretty well," Conway said.
Hannah Linthacum hit a pair of 3-pointers to key the spurt for the Lady Jays.
"She got into a rhythm and knocked them down," Conway said. "That opened things up for us a little bit."
Deer Creek was whistled for its seventh foul late in the first quarter, sending Jefferson City into the 1-and-1 for the remainder of the half.
But Jefferson City didn't take advantage in the nine-plus minutes before intermission, going just 2-of-3 at the line. The Lady Jays shot just one free throw in the entire second quarter.
"When you get your opportunities, you have to step up, get to the and line and knock down those free throws," Conway said.
Deer Creek's leading scorers — Bri Scott and Skylar Vann — sat out the second quarter due to foul trouble. But the Lady Antlers used their depth to stay in the game and trailed just 24-20 at intermission.
Deer Creek opened the third quarter with a 5-0 run to take its first lead since since the opening minutes. But Jefferson City answered with a 6-0 run to take the lead for good. The Lady Jays led by as many as seven points in the third quarter, which ended with Jefferson City ahead 37-32.
"The kids willed themselves to do it," Conway said. "Our execution got better."
Deer Creek cut Jefferson City's lead to two on three occasions in the fourth quarter, the final time at 41-39 with a little more than four minutes left. The Lady Jays then went on a 14-0 run in the next three minutes to ice the game.
The Lady Jays finished with 27 turnovers to just 11 for the Lady Antlers. But they made up for that with a 37-19 edge in rebounds.
"We had a lot of turnovers, but we weathered the storm," Conway said. "We rebounded really well."
Hannah Lithacum finished with 11 rebounds, while Sarah Linthacum and Kara Daly pulled down 10 each.
Hannah Nilges paced Jefferson City with 17 points. Daly added 16, while Hannah Linthacum totaled 14.
Angel Scott scored 13 points to lead Deer Creek (6-2), who will play Blair Oaks in the third-place game at 4 p.m. today. Bri Scott added 13, while Vann chipped in with 10.
Jefferson City (9-0) will face Blue Springs South, a 54-28 winner against Blair Oaks in Saturday night's second semifinal, today for the Classic title. Blue Springs South (9-0) is ranked No. 7 in Class 5.
"This was a big, hyped-up game,'" Conway said. "But we're playing for a tournament title against a team that's undefeated and state-ranked. We're going to have to be mentally ready to play."
Game time is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.