CAMDENTON — Through three quarters, it looked like the last thing the St. Elizabeth Hornets wanted to do was get into a free-throw shooting contest in the final eight minutes.
St. Elizabeth was just 2-of-9 at the stripe in the first 24 minutes of Tuesday night's Class 1 sectional game against the Golden City Eagles at Camdenton High School and held a tenuous 34-30 lead with one quarter to play.
But looks were deceiving.
St. Elizabeth was 15-of-23 at the line in the fourth quarter to seal a 55-50 victory against Golden City.
"I knew our guys would step up at the line after our rough start," St. Elizabeth coach Caleb Heckemeyer said. "I wasn't worried we'd miss them down the stretch than we showed in the first three quarters."
With the win, St. Elizabeth (17-6) advances to take on 10th-ranked Thomas Jefferson Independent (20-5) in the quarterfinals Friday night. The Hornets are the host school and the site of the 6 p.m. game will be Eugene High School.
Thomas Jefferson Independent, located in Joplin, defeated Miami 66-39 in its sectional Tuesday night.
The Hornets' biggest deficit in the game was two points — that coming twice in the second quarter, the last at 20-18. Brock Lucas hit a 3-pointer with :37 left in the half to give St. Elizabeth a 21-20 advantage at halftime.
Lucas then opened the scoring in the third quarter with another 3 to make it 24-20. That shot was big because it gave Lucas 1,002 points for his career.
"We called a play for him and when he hit the shot, it gave us a lot of momentum at the start of the second half," Heckemeyer said.
St. Elizabeth led by as many as six points in the third quarter before taking that 34-30 lead into the fourth.
The Hornets then opened the fourth quarter with a 5-0 run to take their biggest lead of the game at 39-30.
But Golden City would not go away. The Eagles responded with a 4-0 run of their own and the Hornets' lead was down to five at 39-34 with a little less than six minutes to go.
St. Elizabeth pushed its lead back to eight at 45-37 with 2:31 left on a free throw by Carson Kesel. Golden City then scored nine of the next 13 points and it was a one-possession game at 49-46 with 1:11 to play.
"I thought both teams would get off to good starts on offense early and then the best defense late would decide it," Heckemeyer said. "Turns out it was the other way around."
But the Eagles could get no closer as the Hornets were 4-of-6 at the line the rest of the game to take the five-point victory.
"For them to keep clawing and fighting to come back and for us to never give up the lead was great for our guys," Heckemeyer said. "We were challenged."
Golden City looked to push the pace for much of the game, but was slowed a little bit by the St. Elizabeth defense.
"We had some soft pressure and I think that stopped them from running a little bit and helped us out," Heckemeyer said. "We didn't want to get into a running game against these guys because that's what they're built for."
Lane Dunlap and Josh Reeves had 17 points each for fifth-ranked Golden City (22-5), which ends its season at the hands of St. Elizabeth for the second straight season. The Hornets beat the Eagles 65-57 in the semifinals in 2020 and there was no third-place game played due to COVID-19 protocols.
St. Elizabeth finished second last year, losing 59-49 to Dora in the championship game.
Lucas finished with 16 points to pace four Hornets in double figures. Kesel added 12 points, with Dylan Wobbe totaling 11 points to go along with a game-high 13 rebounds. Jace Kesel came off the bench and provided a strong presence with 10 points inside for St. Elizabeth, which received votes in the final rankings of the regular season.
Friday's quarterfinal game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. start.