Terry Wells predicted that if his St. James High School girls' basketball team simply played its game, everything would turn out fine.
And it was classic Lady Tiger basketball to open things in Missouri Class 3 Quarterfinal action Saturday night.
St. James roared out to a fast start and never trailed, holding off the Ash Grove Lady Pirates 63-54 Saturday at the O'Reilly Family Event Center on the campus of Drury University to advance to the Missouri Class 3 State Tournament semifinals.
It will be the fifth trip to the Final Four for the Lady Tiger program and first since the 2004-05 campaign.
St. James (25-4) will meet Cameron (19-11) at 5 p.m. Thursday in Class 3 semifinal action at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia. Cameron advanced by defeating Stockton 55-52 in quarterfinal play Saturday.
In the other Class 3 semifinal game Thursday at the Mizzou Arena Lutheran St. Peters (26-4) takes on St. Louis' North Technical (20-6) at 3:20 p.m.
The losers of the two semifinal games meet at 1:40 p.m. Friday in the third-place game while the semifinal winners square off for the Class 3 girls' championship at 1:20 p.m. on Saturday, both games at the Mizzou Arena.
St. James will be attempting to advance to its first-ever state tourney championship game.
Ash Grove ends with a 24-7 record.
On Saturday it was the picture-perfect start for Wells, in his first season as St. James' head coach, as the Lady Pirates, rattled by St. James' swarming defense, was unable to take full advantage of their size edge.
The Lady Tigers got three-point field goals off the right baseline from sophomore guard Ashlee Marlatt and senior forward M.J. Buschmann to open the game. Ash Grove followed by committing a couple more turnovers that led to layups by Buschmann and Marlatt and all of a sudden it was 10-0.
"When opponents meet who are unfamiliar with each other, it was so important for us to come out and be aggressive," Wells said. "To let them know we were not going to back down."
Ash Grove would regroup and make a game of it. In fact, the Lady Pirates would close their deficit to as little as two points.
The Lady Pirates went on a 6-2 run to cut St. james' lead to 12-6. However, St. James ended the first period with a couple of steals and six unanswered layups, with another Marlatt basket making it 18-6 entering the second period.
The Lady Tiger lead would reach 14 points early in the second period before Ash Grove stormed back with an 11-0 run. Junior forward Lakin Simmerman capped that run with a five-foot jumper at the 3:21 mark of the second period and St. james' lead was trimmed to three, 22-19.
Page 2 of 2 - Another Lady Tiger run followed, as sophomore guard Alexis Uffmann made a steal and converted a layup to complete a 8-0 run and put St. James up 30-19.
Next it was the Lady Pirates' turn to reel off seven unanswered points to end the first half. And a tip-in by Simmerman at the buzzer cut the St. James halftime advantage to 30-26.
Ash Grove junior forward Katie Skelton opened the second half with a five-foot jumper in the lane to cut the St. James edge to two. However, the Lady Tigers quickly built the lead back to 10 with a 8-0 run. Buschmann's driving layup at the 4:10 mark of the third period gave St. James a 38-28 advantage.
The Lady Pirates would make one more run, and a three-pointer by junior guard Erin Weinreis with 2:00 left in the quarter cut the Lady Tiger lead to five, 38-33.
St. James led 41-35 entering the fourth period.
In the final period St. James spread its offense out and scored on three driving layups over the first four minutes. Buschmann's layup at the 3:57 mark upped St. James' edge back to 10, 49-39. That would prove plenty, as the Lady Tigers hit 4-of-5 at the free throw line in the final 3:09 to increase its advantage to as much as 12 points.
"Every time they closed to four or five (points) our girls made a play," Wells said. "That's what you've got to do when two good teams play – step up in key spots.:
Buschmann and Marlatt combined for 49 of St. James' 63 points, Buschmann finishing with 25 points, six rebounds and six steals while Marlatt adding 24 points. Uffmann also had five boards and dished out six assists.
Madilyn Johnson, a 5-5 junior guard, led Ash Grove with 12 points.
Now it's on to Columbia against another opponent very little is known about.
"As of right now I know nothing about them," Wells said of Cameron immediately after Saturday's game. "All I know is they're big and strong."
But as St. James has proven all season long, the bigger they are the harder they can fall.
St. James (25-4): Uffmann 3-1-7, Perona 0-1-1, Buschmann 8-8-25, Marlatt 7-6-24, McDowell 0-2-2, S. Rinehart 1-1-3, Diestelkamp 0-1-1, Totals 19-20-63.
Ash Grove (24-7): Arico 1-0-3, Mauss 1-4-6, Johnson 3-6-12, Cashio 5-0-11, Weinreis 2-2-7, Simmerman 4-1-9, Skelton 2-2-6, Totals 18-15-54.