In preparing for its fifth trip to the Missouri State Tournament Final Four, the St. James High School girls' basketball team turned to its past.
First-year Lady Tiger head coach Terry Wells leads his squad into the Missouri Class 3 State Tournament Semifinals today against the Cameron Dragons at 5 p.m. at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia.
Knowing nothing about Cameron, Wells turned to the coach that began the Lady Tiger run of excellence, Billy Crabtree.
Crabtree is principal at Stockton Middle School. Cameron defeated Stockton 55-52 Saturday in quarterfinal action at Independence.
So Crabtree shared information with his former school. Crabtree served as St. James girls' basketball head coach from 1988-98, posting an impressive 228-49 record during that span, including the Lady Tigers' first Final Four appearance (1994-95).
"I know Billy," Wells said. "I worked with him at (St. James) Middle School for three years after I got out of college. He and their girls' basketball coach were able to get some information together for us, to help us out."
So Crabtree may not be on the Lady Tiger bench, but he's trying to continue the Lady Tiger tradition of excellence.
St. James comes into semifinal action with a 25-4 record while Cameron is 19-11. In Saturday's quarterfinal action the Lady Tigers defeated Ash Grove 63-54 in Springfield.
In the other Class 3 girls' semifinal game at the Mizzou Arena today Lutheran St. Peters (26-4) takes on North Technical (20-6) of St. Louis at 3:20.
The losers of today's semifinal games meet at 1:40 p.m. Friday in the third-place game while the semifinal winners square off for the Class 3 championship at 1:20 p.m. on Saturday at the Mizzou Arena.
St. James Vs. Cameron
Both St. James and Cameron staggered to the end of the regular season before catching fire in the postseason.
After winning 19 straight games and earning the No. 1 position in the Missouri Class 3 state poll, the Lady Tigers dropped four of their final six games of the regular season. The Dragons lost six of their last eight games to close out the regular season, including their final three games.
"It's exciting for the community and the school," said Matt Wenck, in his fifth season as Cameron girls' basketball head coach. "The players are extremely excited. We lost six of our last eight and three in a row to end the (regular) season. Then we kind of woke up in district."
The Dragons have captured four district championships but have never got past the sectional round until this year. Cameron finished with a 24-5 record last season and had several talented youngsters returning this campaign.
Cameron starts four sophomores and a junior.
Both teams have played a strong regular season.
Page 2 of 2 - "I think the majority of our games have been against (Class) 4 and 5 schools," Wenck said.
Leading the charge for the Dragons is 5-9 junior Ashli Lykins, who averages 17 points and four rebounds, while 5-5 sophomore Melia Richardson averages 12 points and 5.5 rebounds and 5-10 sophomore Taylor Hamilton leads the squad in rebounding at eight per game.
"They have a super nice point guard who is very fast," Wells said. "And they're big and strong, which is always a concern to us because of the rebounding battle and our size."
Wenck knows little about St. James, but knows the Dragons will have their hands full.
"I know they're really good," Wenck said of St. James. "I know the schedule they play is very good as well; the Four Rivers Conference has very good girls' basketball. And they've got some tradition.
"I really think it will be a good basketball game. They're kind of small but very quick. (Lady Tiger forward M.J.) Buschmann is a heck of a player and (guard Ashlee) Marlatt is about as quick as I've seen this year."
Cameron will have to handle St. James' swarming pressure defense to advance.
"We take pride in playing a style teams have difficulty preparing for," Wells said. "I think that worked against Ash Grove."
Buschmann, a 5-10 senior, averages 16.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.8 steals for St. James, shooting 46 percent from the field and 31 percent from three-point range. Marlatt, a 5-5 sophomore, averages 13.4 points, 2.2 steals, has hit 67 three-pointers and 37 percent of her three-point attempts.
Also for the Lady Tigers 5-6 sophomore guard Alexis Uffmann leads the St. Louis area in assists at 7.3 while averaging 9.0 points and 4.2 steals while 5-5 freshman guard Shauna Rinehart averages 9.2 points and has hit 42 three-pointers (35 percent).
"It's a dream come true," Wells said of his first trip to the Final Four. "You always dream about this as a player and coach. To watch these guys come together and accomplish what they have, it's very satisfying."
Here are the Final Four Lady Tiger teams (head coaches in parenthesis):
1994-95 (Coach Billy Crabtree)
2001-02 (Coach Brad Conway)
2003-04 (Coach Brad Conway)
2004-05 (Coach Brad Conway)
2012-13 (Coach Terry Wells)