Whitfield gets the cake, rolls past Webster Groves and into Class 5 title game | Girls Basketball

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Whitfield junior Treazure Jackson couldn’t wait to crack into the cake.

Sophomore teammate JaNyla Bush was salivating at the thought of the red velvet treat.

Whitfield girls basketball coach Mike Slater promises his team a post-game reward if the Warriors turn in what he deems a grade of 93 percent or above on its defensive performance.

Slater and his sister, Christine Bayless, take turns baking the prizes, which have served as a great motivational tool.

“It’s worth it,” Bush said.

Added Jackson, “But we have to work for it.”

Whitfield earned its sugar rush Friday with a lockdown defensive performance in a 55-42 win over Webster Groves in a Class 5 state semifinal at JQH Arena on the campus of Missouri State University.

The defending state champion Warriors improved to 24-3 with their 16th consecutive win.

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Whitfield will face West Plains (26-4) in the championship game at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Slater likes to dangle the cake in front of his players. They work hard to meet his criterion. He does not elaborate on his grading system but was super pleased with Friday’s effort.

“I believe they absolutely did today,” Slater said of passing his percentage total.

The Warriors limited Webster Groves to just 20 points over the game’s first 19 minutes and 13 seconds, when the contest was all but decided.

“Offensively, we could have done a little better,” Webster Groves coach Josh Spuhl.

Jackson, Bush and Brooklyn Rhodes triggered Whitfield’s strong defensive effort. Rhodes, a 6-foot-2 intimidator, blocked three shots and held Webster Groves forward Eliza Maupin, also 6-2, to just six points — nine below her average.

Bush also pumped in a game-high 24 points, including an eye-popping explosion of four successive 3-pointers in the third quarter that put the game away.

Jackson added 12 points. She had nine in the first half to help her team carry a 25-17 lead into the break.

“I really try not to focus on scoring,” Jackson said. “I just really work on my energy and my stamina. I pride myself on my quickness. That’s what I try and utilize.”

Whitfield used a 10-2 run over final 6:33 of the first half to go in front to stay. Bush hit the first of her five 3-pointers and Jackson followed with an old-fashioned 3-point play for a 21-15 cushion. Bush connected again, this time on a picture-perfect fallaway jumper, before Jackson closed the salvo with a nifty drive down the lane.

Webster Groves (24-6) opened the third quarter with a conventional 3-point play from Ellie Paloucek just 16 seconds into the period.

Spuhl felt the basket would be a portent of things to come.

“It was beautiful,” Spuhl said.

Enter Bush, who singlehandedly crushed the comeback with a 12-point blitz in 3:34 — all on 3-pointers.

“After I saw the second one go in, I felt like I couldn’t miss anymore,” Bush said.

Whitfield beat Webster Groves 46-41 on Nov. 27 and knew what to expect.

“I just think we came out and we were ready,” Jackson said.

The Warriors are making their fourth final four appearance in the last five seasons. Their rugged season included losses to Incarnate Word, Edwardsville and Rock Bridge.

“Being the state champ is a (feeling) like no other,” said Britney Rhodes, who had five points and three rebounds. “You are at the top and you’ve got to hold that position. And that’s what we’re doing now.”

Tkiyah Nelson chipped in with eight points and a team-high six rebounds for the winners.

Paloucek led Webster Groves with 13 points. Senior Sophia Nittinger had 11 points and a game-high eight rebounds.

The Statesmen, who lost to IWA in the Class 6 championship game last season, take on Smithville (21-9) in the third-place game at 10 a.m. Saturday.

 “I feel lucky enough to get a chance that we can play better (Saturday),” Spuhl said.