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Youngsters help Crane girls reach title game

Lady Pirates keep composure in semifinal victory over Skyline


12:00 AM, Mar. 08, 2013 EST

Freshman Justine Mahan celebrates with teammates after Crane's victory over Skyline in Thursday's Class 2 state semifinals at the Hearnes Center in Columbia. The Lady Pirates will play New Haven in Saturday's 5 p.m. championship game at Mizzou Arena. Grant Hindsley / For the News-Leader

COLUMBIA — 

Like for most games, the Crane High School student section could've worn out the "She's-a-freshman!" chant on Thursday afternoon.

Because during the biggest game of the season on the biggest stage that most of the Crane players have seen, the freshman class continued to make plays.

The fans did chant for the freshmen a handful of times, but could've done it many more during a 70-51 Class 2 state semifinal victory over Skyline at the Hearnes Center.

Five-foot-10 freshman Emma Lander had a game-high 18 points to lead the group on the campus of the University of Missouri.

"We came in (the Hearnes Center) and got a tour (Wednesday), and it was so big," Lander said. "It was a little scary, but today I was just so confident in my team. We honestly can beat anybody, I believe. I just had no doubt in my mind that we could win.

"I wasn't nervous when I stepped on the floor, and I have to thank God for that, because we definitely did a lot of praying before the game."

All seven of Crane's freshmen played, combining for 34 points and 21 rebounds in 77 minutes of action.

The Lady Pirates, who have one senior, were composed throughout, committing just one first-half turnover and five for the game. They also outrebounded Skyline 38-22, and were led in that stat by freshman starter Lexie Vaught, who had seven rebounds in 26 minutes.

"They were nervous," Crane coach Jeremy Mullins said. "I don't know what they did in the locker room before the game, but they got over it."

Crane (28-3) will play New Haven in Saturday's Class 2 final at 5 p.m. at Mizzou Arena.

The Lady Pirates opened the second quarter on a 9-1 run capped by freshman Justine Mahan's 3-pointer to put her team up 25-14.

The lead was double digits throughout the third quarter, but Skyline's Madisen Brethower's driving basket to open the fourth quarter made it 50-42 with 7:09 to go.

After a Crane turnover, Brethower went to the bench with her fourth foul. After an offensive rebound, Allie Hagler made a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 11, as Crane again pulled away.

"We should've been down six there and then we were down 11," Skyline coach Kevin Cheek said. "That kind of takes the wind out of your sails. Then, they dominated us after that."

Ashley Bishop scored 16 points to lead Skyline (25-6), which next year will lose senior reserve Brittany Johnson and Kim Orrell, who missed much of the season with an injury. Skyline plays Marceline at 5 p.m. today in a third-place game.

Crane played all 14 of its players on the roster.

"When they run that many kids at you, it's hard to sustain the effort," Cheek said. "And they're athletic kids."

Ahead for Crane is New Haven, last season's Class 2 runner-up, which topped Marceline 49-33.

Crane's McMenamy scored 12 points, and said she was not surprised about the continued production of her freshman teammates.

"I know they're good players," she said. "And I know they're going to play just as good as anyone."

 

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