MOBERLY -- The Missouri Basketball Coaches Association released the final state rankings for the regular season. The Tipton Lady Cardinals were ranked No. 2 in Class 2. The Northeast was followed by the Cairo Lady Bearcats at No. 3.
One spot may have separated the two teams in the rankings, but the Lady Cardinals made the gap look as wide as the Grand Canyon in Saturday afternoon's quarterfinal matchup at Moberly Area Community College's Fitzsimmons-John Arena.
Tipton held Cairo to just two points in the game's first 13 minutes and never let off the defensive pressure, cruising to a 64-29 victory and advancing to its third Final Four in the past four seasons.
'It just proves how good we are, honestly,' Tipton senior Briar Cox said. 'A lot of people said it was going to be a 10-point game or a 15-point game. We just came out there with all the heart and we just wanted it so bad.'
Tipton (29-1) advances to play the unranked Norwood Lady Pirates in the state semifinals at 8 p.m. Friday at Hammons Student Center in Springfield. Norwood (23-6) won its quarterfinal game 47-39 against Fordland.
Last year's quarterfinal loss to South Shelby was definitely on the Lady Cardinals' minds, as it is the only blemish on an impressive four-year run for the program.
'That really took a toll on us,' Cox said. 'We just came out with fight and fire.'
And really good defense.
Cairo made just one of its first 18 shot attempts, that coming on a basket by Mallori Hankins at the 2:06 mark of the first quarter.
'You can't win a game if you don't play defense,' Tipton's Myra Claas said. 'Defense fuels all the momentum.'
Although it was a top-three matchup in Class 2, Tipton made Saturday's game look like many of its regular-season performances, leading 13-2 after one quarter and 32-3 late in the second quarter.
Jason Culpepper, Tipton coach, stated that if we come out and play defensive and rebound, then we execute offensively as we can. Although we didn't score enough points to beat someone by 30, it was clear that if you can keep a team under 20s defensively, you will have the chance to win every game.
Culpepper also acknowledged it was an off-day shooting for the Lady Bearcats, who missed several point-blank shots in the first half.
'I know the score was pretty lopsided, but watching Cairo on film, they were in the margin of error,' he said.
Leading by 29 points in the first half of a state quarterfinal game did not come as a surprise to Culpepper.
'I trust this team to play defense,' he said. 'Whenever they communicate and they rebound, they do such a good job of following our scout and our gameplan.'
Tipton began the second quarter on a 13-0 run, one of several double-digit runs it has made this season.
'We definitely started pushing the ball more and got transition looks,' Claas said. 'We ran the floor.'
Cairo ended the second quarter on a 6-0 run to make the score 32-9 at halftime. The Lady Bearcats also ended the third quarter on a 6-0 run, trimming their deficit to 47-24.
Other than those two brief stretches, it was all Tipton.
Claas scored eight of her game-high 22 points in the third quarter. The Lincoln signee scored a three-point play off a steal, knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key and then made 1-of-2 free throws to extend the Lady Cardinals' lead to 47-18 with :29 remaining in the third quarter.
According to MaxPreps, Claas is five points shy of 2,400 for her career with two more games to play.
'Offensively, she controls the ball so well,' Culpepper said. 'She makes good decisions with the basketball, she makes open shots, she makes contested shots. … She's just so good.'
Claas added another 3 from the top of the key with 3:21 to play in the fourth quarter, extending the lead to 60-29 to trigger the running clock.
The Lady Cardinals also made the extra pass during the fourth quarter. On one occasion, that led to a kick-out 3 by Josie Dicus, a senior who came off the bench in the final minutes to score her only points of the game.
'You love to see it,' Culpepper said. 'Clara (Williams) got a 3 in the second half off the extra pass, it went from Charlee (Bailey) to Myra to Clara. They decided they didn't want Charlee and Myra to get it, so they left Clara wide open in the corner.'
The Lady Cardinals dominated the rebounding column as well. Briar Cox had a game-high 14 rebounds and Brett Cox added 10 rebounds.
'I can't say enough about Brett and Briar,' Culpepper said of his two senior post players. 'They both played so, so well today.'
Briar Cox added 12 points to finish with her 12th double-double of the season. Bailey scored nine of her 11 points after halftime.
Avery Martin, Jersey Bailey, and Gracie Brumley each scored seven points in Cairo (26-4).
The other Class 2 semifinal matchup is top-ranked Bishop LeBlond (27-3) against unranked New Haven (17-10). LeBlond is the only team to defeat Tipton this season.
It would be easy to look past Norwood and eye a potential No. 1 vs. No. 2 rematch against LeBlond, but …
'We take it game by game, you focus one game at a time,' Culpepper said. 'But in the big picture, we feel like we have the team to (win state), we feel like we have the path to do it.
'We want to go down to Springfield and finish business.'