The tradition continues at St. James High School.
It's been a couple of years since the Lady Tigers have been able to get past district competition. But Saturday night St. James will be back where it has been numerous times over the years, playing for a berth in the Class 3 State Tournament semifinals as part of the Missouri Show-Me Showdown.
St. James (24-4) takes on the Ash Grove Pirates (24-6) at 7:45 p.m. Saturday at the O'Reilly Family Event Center on the campus of Drury University in Springfield.
The St. James-Ash Grove winner moves on to the Class 3 Final Four at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia March 7-9. Either St. James or Ash Grove will play the Stockton (16-12)-Cameron (18-11) winner at 5 p.m. Thursday, March 7 in state tourney semifinal action at the Mizzou Arena.
Teams remaining in the opposite Class 3 girls' bracket are Twin Rivers (23-7), Lutheran St. Peters (25-4), North Technical (19-6) and Palmyra (24-5).
The Class 3 girls' third-place game is slated for 1:40 p.m. March 8 and the championship game is set for 1:20 p.m. March 9.
In sectional action on Wednesday St. James advanced by beating Licking 53-35 while Ash Grove knocked off Fair Grove 67-56.
If St. James wins on Saturday it will make the fifth state tournament semifinal appearance in program history.
In the boys' Class 3 Quarterfinal game at the O'Reilly Center Saturday Fatima (27-1) takes on Strafford (24-4) at 6 p.m.
In all, the O'Reilly Center will play host to four state playoff games on Saturday, including a couple of area Class 2 teams.
In Class 2 Quarterfinal action at Drury on Saturday Iberia (26-3), of the Frisco League, plays Pierce City (19-10) at 1 p.m. in the boys game followed by the girls' contest pitting Crocker (27-2), of the Frisco League, vs. Crane (27-3) at 2:45 p.m.
On Saturday St. James, ranked No. 7 in the final regular-season state poll, will be at a size disadvantage against the Pirates. To which Lady Tiger head coach Terry Wells says, "What else is new?"
"I think our conference really prepares us for size disadvantage," said Wells, in his first season as St. James head coach. "And we're hoping it has prepared us for (Saturday's) game.
"Ash Grove is a very solid team. They have played a very tough schedule. They've had injuries throughout the course of the season and have been able to survive. And they played in the Pink and White (Tournament in Springfield), so they have already played four games at the O'Reilly Center."
Even though St. James is not that familiar with Ash Grove, Wells says if the Lady Tigers do their thing well he likes their chances. Meaning Ash Grove, ranked No. 9 in the state poll, will have to brace for St. James' swarming defensive pressure.
Page 2 of 2 - "With what we do, we take pride in that teams really have got to prepare for us," Wells said.
Ash Grove head coach Brent Milleson says the Lady Pirates are in for a battle.
"I think certain programs establish tradition over a period of time," Milleson said. "And St. James has had a period of excellence for the better part of two decades. They're well-coached and are exactly what you expect this time of year."
The Pirates have battled injuries throughout the campaign, particularly, to their best player, 6-0 junior post Lakin Simmerman.
Simmerman, a two-time Mid-Lakes All-Conference player, suffered a foot injury a couple of weeks into the season and was in and out of the lineup for extended periods. She has been back for the last couple of weeks and is now healthy, averaging a double-double in scoring and rebounding.
"It's exciting to be practicing at this point of the year," Milleson said. "I'm very pleased how the kids have handled some adversity. Every team has injuries and we've had more than our fair share.
"A few days ago we were down three starters; it's been one thing after another. But we're as healthy as we're going to be right now."
The Lady Pirates' roster includes one senior, two freshmen and a slew of juniors.
All five Ash Grove starters are juniors, and all five average between seven and 13 points per game.
Simmerman averages 13 points and 10 rebounds while 5-9 Katie Skelton averages nine points and 10 rebounds; 5-8 junior Abby Arico eight points and 5-9 Jamie Mauss seven points.
Pacing the St. James attack is 5-10 senior forward M.J. Buschmann, who erupted for 30 points Wednesday and averages 15.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.6 steals.
Also for the Lady Tigers 5-5 sophomore guard Ashlee Marlatt averages 13.3 points, 5-5 freshman guard Shauna Rinehart 9.6 points and 5-6 sophomore guard Alexis Uffmann 9.0 points, 7.4 assists and 4.3 steals.
Wells is not worried about the stage being too large for his Lady Tigers this weekend; he says they have stepped up to the challenge all season long.
"We have a super competitive group of kids," he said. "They respond when they are challenged. And I don't think there is any way to get around this is a big spot."