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Feb. 24, 2017

WARDSVILLE, Mo. --- You could make the argument that no less than three teams from this district could have made the Final Four, if the stars had aligned differently.

Two things ...

You could have --- probably would have --- won that argument.

Second, the word if is the start of a lot of excuses. But sometimes, they're not excuses at all.

Seven teams in this district had to lose and two of them probably didn't deserve to --- not yet, anyway. In the end, the one team that went to the Final Four last year turned out to be the best team in the district this year.

The Southern Boone Lady Eagles did what they do best --- showcase more defense than most third-world countries --- as they shut down the St. James Lady Tigers 41-29 in the championship game of the Class 3 District 9 Tournament at Blair Oaks.

The first thing Tony Phillips did was hand out doses of praise ... to the losing team.

"(St. James') Terry Wallace is a great coach and their girls are a class act," said Phillips, head coach of the Lady Eagles. "They're not playing full strength, but they won every game they played this season except one, so hats off to them."

Second-ranked St. James ends the season at 27-1 in a district that also featured sixth-ranked Father Tolton, along with fourth-ranked Southern Boone.

That's what you'd call the (bad) luck of the draw.

"Maybe," Phillips said, "we need to re-evaluate how we do this, because these kids only have four years in high school."

No. 2 tries harder? Sure. But in this case, the winner was No. 3.

Two nights after knocking out second-seeded Tolton in the semifinals, the No. 3 seed Lady Eagles (23-5) took aim on the No. 1 seed Lady Eagles.

Both teams did one thing well enough to win and another poorly enough to lose --- Southern Boone committed only eight turnovers, compared to 17 for St. James. But the Lady Tigers held a big edge in rebounding, 29-18.

The Lady Eagles basically led wire-to-wire after Skyler Beeson dropped in a 3-pointer just 38 seconds into the game. Southern Boone led 9-7 after one quarter and by as many as eight points in the second, before St. James got within 22-20 at the break.

The Lady Tigers took their first lead of the game at 23-22 on a 3-pointer by Quinn Paulus early in the third quarter. After a 13-footer by Emma Anderson --- who led the Lady Eagles with 10 points --- made it 24-23, the Lady Tigers took their last lead of the game at 25-24 on a follow-shot by Devin Fuhring with 5:28 left in the frame.

Note the time and the score here --- St. James had 25 points with 5:28 left in third quarter.

They finished the game with 29 points.

Four points in the final 13 1/2 minutes.

By a team that hadn't lost a game all season.

That's all you need to know.

"Our defense is special," Phillips said. "That's what we've always stressed, because you're going to have off-nights offensively, but there's no reason to have off-nights defensively."

It's not like the Lady Eagles exploded offensively in the final 13 1/2 minutes, but they certainly did enough. They scored the final five points of the third to take a 29-25 lead and led 33-27 on an inside score by Kylie Shoot with 4:09 left.

In a game like this, a six-point lead felt like 16. Or 26. Or 106. It was over.

"Our girls rose to the challenge tonight," said Phillips, who's amassed a mark of 52-8 in two seasons at Southern Boone. "It's a credit to them, the way they battled tonight and the way they've battled all season. We had so many injuries and challenges and obstacles to overcome this year, so this is very sweet.

"Every team was out to beat them and we answered the call almost every night."

To be sure, this season hasn't always been smooth sailing. In one 16-day stretch in January, the Lady Eagles suffered four of their five losses.

How did they get out of the funk?

Girls just want to have fun.

"We got away from basketball a little bit and had some fun," said Phillips, whose team plays the District 10 champion (Licking or Houston) in the sectionals at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday in Rolla. "They continued to believe in me, because they knew that we believed in them and that we loved them --- and that we'd get out of it."

They got out of the funk and now, they've gotten out of this district.

That's saying something. But by now, we should not be surprised by anything this team does.

Loeffler's Link

The Southern Boone Lady Eagles celebrate with the championship trophy after winning the Class 3 District 9 Tournament on Friday night in Wardsville.

Defensive dominance: Lady Eagles

​shut down Lady Tigers, win title

Lady Eagles survive

brutal test, advance

​to district title game