Rogers’ Keyanna Austin, left, and Akienreh Johnson celebrate during their City League semifinal win Wednesday night.
THE BLADE/LORI KING
Winning a third straight City League girls basketball championship is the objective for a talent-loaded Rogers team.
But that didn’t show Wednesday night during the first half of a CL semifinal against Waite at Scott.
The Rams played a lackluster first half against the Indians and led by only a point at halftime against a team they handled rather easily during two earlier matchups this season.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view photos of the Rogers-Waite game
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view photos of the Start-Woodward game
It took an emotionally charged halftime speech by Rogers coach Lamar Smith to ignite the Rams to a furious second-half surge that resulted in a 66-31 rout.
“We made some adjustments, and I got on them pretty good because I didn’t like the way they were playing, and the girls didn’t like the way they were playing,” Smith said. “I think they were playing down with no energy, and they brought their energy in the second half.”
Start trailed Woodward for much of the other City League semifinal before rallying in the fourth quarter to pull out a 42-33 victory to advance to the league tournament title game.
The Rams and Spartans will face each other for the championship at 3 p.m. Saturday at Waite.
The Rams (17-4), who led 17-16 at the break, opened the second half against the Indians with a 12-0 spurt and never looked back.
“We came out mad,” said senior guard Jasmyne Smith, who led the Rams with a game-high 12 points. “We wanted to show all the hard work we’ve put in, that we know what to do to win.”
Smith, who is the coach’s daughter, was one of three players to score in double figures and one of 11 Rams to score at least two points in the contest.
Akienreh Johnson and Keasja Peace pumped in 10 points each while Sasha Dailey added eight and Sydney Petty seven for Rogers, which outscored Waite 49-15 during the second half.
Taylor Works led Waite with 10 points while Leslie Barnett and Ramiyah Henry scored nine apiece. LaTrecia Williams grabbed 10 rebounds as Waite kept the game close in the first half.
“You’ve got to give Waite credit,” Lamar Smith said. “They made it to the final four and played us hard tonight, and I give them a lot of credit for the first half and the way they played. But our girls stepped up and showed what they’re about, and I’m really proud of our kids because they showed what they can do. It’s the City League [tournament], and it’s a thing now where everyone is going to play us hard. This is our third time playing them, so everybody knows each other.”
The Rams and Indians struggled to score in the first half, and it led to Rogers closing the first quarter with a 5-2 lead. The Indians led 9-7 when YaTia Caldwell scored on a fast break with 4 minutes, 4 seconds left during the second quarter.
The Indians led 16-15 and appeared to be heading into halftime with a lead before Smith scored on a breakaway layup just before the buzzer to give Rogers a one-point edge. In the second half, Rogers played like a team that had won the two previous CL titles.
Like the Rams, the Spartans found themselves in trouble against a league rival they had swept during the regular season.
But Start, which trailed 16-12 at halftime, outscored Woodward 18-8 in the final quarter to escape.
“It’s tournament time, and you saw in the first half of the Waite-Rogers game that if you’re not sharp, you could lose,” Start coach Leon Kynard said. “I give Woodward a lot of credit because they came out and did some things with their offense and played well. They played solid for three quarters. We just had to persevere their willingness to try to win.”
Chelsie Randolph paced Start with 11 points, and Michaela Perdue chipped in with 10. Mariah White added eight.
K’Shawna Barnett led the Polar Bears with 13 points before picking up her fifth foul late. Cierra Stamper provided 10 points and Andrea Johnson added six for Woodward, which closed the third quarter with a 25-24 lead.
Woodward coach Thom West credited Start for getting the job done down the stretch.
“They had better stamina than we did in the fourth quarter,” West said. “When you get tired, you start making mental mistakes. We started making mistakes in the fourth quarter that we didn’t make in the first three quarters.”
Randolph, who scored a couple of timely baskets during the fourth quarter, said the Spartans came together during halftime.
They played with more energy after looking at the scoreboard.
“We didn’t come out our best, but toward the end we brought it through,” Randolph said. “We pulled it out. It was a dog fight.”