Late in games there’s nothing more a coach loves than a trustworthy point guard to run the show, make smart decisions and knock in free throws when it matters most.
Lee’s Summit North girls basketball coach Tricia Lillygren has just that in senior Erica Nelson.
Nelson put together an impressive performance in helping the Broncos defeat second-ranked Truman 55-53 March 12 at the Independence Events Center in a Class 5 state sectional game.
“I like that role. I like the ball in my hands and control of the game,” Nelson said.
The win was the first in three tries for the Broncos over the Patriots this season, and Nelson helped ice it by making nine of 10 free throws down the stretch.
“Normally, I’m not a great free-throw shooter,” Nelson said with a big grin. “But I’m at least 75 percent.”
Wednesday’s playoff appearance was the first for the Broncos in more than a decade, so the team came out of the gates with some jitters, as it was just 9-4 Patriots after one quarter of play.
“We had some first-game sectional jitters,” Bronco senior Stevie Anderson said. “This was our first time in this game since (2001-2002).”
But once the Broncos got comfortable, they made it look easy at times against a Truman team that had lost once all season and was riding a 17-game win streak.
From the start of the second quarter until midway through the fourth quarter, North put together quite possibly its best stretch of basketball against a high-level opponent by outscoring Truman 41-24 and taking a 45-33 lead.
“Against that caliber a team, absolutely (it was our best stretch of basketball),” Lillygren said. “I’m really proud of our defense and our passing on offense. We have to pass the ball well to create scores.”
And leading the way is Nelson. When she’s in a groove and playing with patience, as she was for most of the game, her ability to find an open player for a layup is on full display.
“It’s makes things a lot easier,” Anderson said of Nelson’s ability to run the offense. “We have to give her a chance to set up the entire floor. It’s easier on her so it’s easier on us.”
Added Lillygren, not hiding her praise for Nelson’s passing skills, “She’s probably the best passer we’ve ever had at Lee’s Summit North. When she makes good decisions and keeps the game simple, she can play with anybody.”
With the Broncos’ ability to be patient on offense mixed with Nelson consistently finding her teammates for layups, North was able to pull ahead in the second quarter and led 21-18 at the half.
They led by as many as six in the third quarter but Truman hung around, as it was 32-30 North entering the fourth quarter.
But a 13-3 run to start the fourth quarter on six layups – two coming on assists from Nelson, as she finished with eight for the game and just one turnover to go with 17 points and seven rebounds – was too much for the Patriots to overcome.
“We were yelling pretty much for layups only at that point,” Lillygren said. “We knew what we needed to accomplish. We executed.”
Not to be lost in the effort was the defense, especially on Truman stars Abby Hix and Rebecca Jonas. While the two combined for 37 points, Anderson made life tough on Hix, hounding her throughout the game, while the trio of Imani Johnson, Aaliyah Johnson and Jaden Powell battled with Jonas in the post.
“We wanted to make sure we wore her down,” Lillygren said specifically of Hix. “Stevie has put a lot of work into embracing playing defense.”
A total team effort will be needed again, as standing in the Broncos’ (22-5) way of a trip to the Final Four is North Kansas City. The two teams will meet at 1 p.m. March 15 at the Events Center.
“We can taste it. It’s in our minds,” Nelson said. “Hopefully, we can make it. But we have to take one game at a time. We have to focus on us.”