GRAHAM, Mo. – The Jefferson Eagles have one senior in their starting lineup, the Stanberry Bulldogs start five seniors. The Eagles won the first half of the district championship game on Friday night — but the Bulldogs and their senior group won the game as they rallied in the second half for a 54-41.
“I think we ran out of gas and that’s a team that’s played that style all year long, they run the floor and they try to speed it up with their press,” Eagles coach Tyler Pedersen said. “We were in position where we had some opportunities to attack and we got tired and they had great players that stepped up.”
The start in the first quarter looked much like the previous two matchups as Stanberry jumped out to a 4-0 lead. The Jefferson offense took a while to get going with their first basket coming from Ashley Mattson three-and-a-half minutes into the first quarter.
The Eagles took off offensively after Mattson’s basket, scoring 11-straight over a three-minute span. The Bulldogs ended the run with two points from senior Kierstyn McMillen with 1:17 left in the first. Jaclyn Pappert extended the lead to seven with a two-point basket to end the first quarter and give the Eagles a 13-6 lead.
“The first time we played them was in the Albany Tournament in the last week of November or first week of December and this team has grown so much since then,” Pedersen said. “In the second game, Stanberry just started really hot and so we talked about making sure shots were contested and I thought we did a better job of contesting shots in the first half.
“It’s just a tribute to the girls and how far they’ve come. Because you’re playing a team that beat you by 30 each time. You could have come in mentally defeated, but that’s not this team. They came in and they made them earn it.”
Stanberry’s Lily Osborn cut the lead to four with a three-point play to start the second quarter, but the Pappert sisters answered with a combined three points followed by a layup from Stephanie Turpin. The nine-point lead was the biggest of the game.
The Bulldogs went on a 5-0 run out of their timeout to again cut the lead to four, but Mattson pushed the lead back out to six with a layup. The two teams traded baskets for much of the second quarter. Stanberry cut the lead to three with a 3-pointer from Elle Ellis with 40 seconds left in the half, but Jaclyn Pappert knocked down the Eagles’ only 3-pointer of the game to end the half.
Jefferson’s third quarter went much differently than their starts to the first and second quarters. The Bulldogs started with a 9-2 run to take the lead with 3:20 left in the quarter and their first lead since midway through the first quarter.
Malia Collins’ layup with 2:17 left in the third gave Jefferson a 32-31 lead. Stanberry then finished the quarter with a 10-2 run to take a 41-34 lead. After making just three 3-pointers in the first half, the Bulldogs found groove with three in the third quarter.
The Eagles went back-and-forth with the Bulldogs for the first three minutes of the final quarter, but Jefferson was unable to make key stops to regain the lead. Stanberry ended the game with a 12-1 run.
Vanessa Pappert scored four points in her final game as a Jefferson Eagle. Coach Pedersen spoke of her leadership and her ability to come back after two ACL surgeries.
“For Vanessa to come back and have the type of senior year that she did after she tore her second ACL, when that happened that was uncharted territory for me,” Pedersen said. “I’ve had players with ACL injuries, but I’ve never had a player go through it twice and I didn’t really know how to handle it.
“I asked myself if I push her too hard in the offseason, what if it happens again and that was something that she was never scared of. She came back, she worked really hard and for her to have the senior year that she had — that’s pretty special.”
The Jefferson program will also say goodbye to senior Ashley Riley. The track and field star was never a huge contributor on the stat sheet, but a player that Pedersen said was very important to the program.
“She’s undersized, but she went out and she worked really hard for four years and she played basketball through times where she didn’t see the floor, but as a practice player and a defender — I couldn’t ask for more, she helped us get better and had a role on this team every season,” Pedersen said.
Amber White was the final of the three seniors to finish their careers with a second-place finish in the District 16 tournament.
“She’s light-hearted, but she cares and basketball may not be her top priority when it comes to what her favorite things to do is, but you could never tell that,” Pedersen said. “She put a lot of heart into it and you have to appreciate that.”
The future is bright for the Jefferson players who will not just bring back four of five starters, but will also have new additions as they welcome players from South Nodaway to form Platte Valley.
“We had a lot of younger players get some experience, the environment in here was great, the crowd was into it and I didn’t expect anything less from a Stanberry and Jefferson crowd,” Pedersen said. “I told the girls before the game that I love this environment and hopefully created some really great memories for them down the road.”