Senior Hannah Dressler played the last 11 seconds of the Class 5 championship game for the Rock Bridge Bruins. It was a symbolic gesture. Dressler, daughter of Mark Dressler who played on state championship teams for the DeSmet Spartans and played for the Mizzou Tigers had her career cut short by a severe knee injury.
The symbolism was poignant because the Bruins had just staged a dramatic comeback, overcoming a 10-point halftime deficit and outscoring the St. Joe Angels by 17 points in the second half for an improbable but rewarding 45-38 state championship victory.
Coach Jill Nagel’s Bruins played a real championship game. They have now successfully won back to back class 5 state crowns.
The Bruins wound up 25-5 for the year, and St. Joe ended up 23-6. On February 2, the Bruins beat St. Joe in the Webster Groves tournament, 55-40.
Heroes for Rock Bridge were many. Clutch free throw shooting by sophomore Sophie Cunningham was critical. She knocked down several 1 and 1’s down the home stretch.
Cierra Porter, another sophomore played like a senior.
It wasn’t as if St. Joe didn’t have their heroes. Erin Nelson, who now goes on to play at Saint Louis University was the game-high scorer with 22 points. She scored 15 of the 22 in the first half when the Angels built up that 10-point lead, 25-15 at the break. She had two three-pointers in her total.
On the other hand, Sydney Stipanovich, who averages 15.6 points and 11.8 rebounds was held to 9 points.
The Bruins played a suffocating 3 guard, 2 forward swarming defense that confused St. Joe. The Bruins dialed up 90-foot pressure and the Angels could not handle the press, throwing away numerous second-half opportunities.
Coach Julie Matheny was that close to her second state title personally and the 7th in school history.
She knows where games are lost. In a day and age where strength and heft rule the court, her stars are out muscled often. Being in the weight room is not required at St. Joe, and physically, they have trouble matching up with stronger, sturdier opponents.
Still, the history of St. Joe basketball is without compare. In the 1990s, St. Joe ruled the roost, winning four titles over one decade. It will take just one more championship to get their house completely back in order again.
But it didn’t happen Saturday night at Mizzou Arena against the hometown team from Columbia Rock Bridge High School.