COLUMBIA — Emily Miller could relax for the first time Wednesday night, and the rest of Hickman High School exhaled with her.
Dribbling the clock out at half-court, she prematurely handed the ball to officials, and it bounced out of bounds with 1.4 seconds left.
Excuse the early celebration; the Kewpies (17-2) snapped a six-year losing streak to cross-town rival Rock Bridge High School (13-5).
“I guess I was a little too excited,” Miller said. “But we won anyway.”
Yes they did: Hickman Kewpies 45, Rock Bridge Bruins 35. The state’s No. 4 team toppled No. 1.
“This is the game for all the teams that have worked so hard and haven’t won,” senior guard Mikayla Logan said.
Afterward players cried at mid-court as Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” blared. Police officers hugged. Teachers held several hundred students back from storming the court. After a while, the faculty members threw up their hands and let them go.
“We’ve been on the short side of the stick for a long time,” coach Tonya Mirts said. “We’ve waited a long time for this.”
After scoring a game-high 26 points, Miller’s smile personified euphoria.
“Everyone’s waiting for you,” a classmate whispered as she left the locker room.
“When there’s maybe 40 seconds left, and you’re up by 12, you maybe feel like you have it,” said Miller, smiling with trembling lips. “But with a team that’s such a rival, you don’t relax until that last second.”
Her 3-pointer over Bruins’ star Sophie Cunningham put the Kewpies up by 10 with four minutes to play.
Two minutes later, up by the same margin, Hickman played keep-away for 40 seconds until sophomore point guard Cassie Kent split a pair of free throws.
Miller hit another foul shot moments later. Rock Bridge took a timeout.
“Do you hear your student section?” Mirts asked her team in the huddle.
The bleachers rumbled. The students chanted. Parents, seated across the floor, joined in: “I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win.”
“That was like, oh my gosh, we’re there,” Logan said. “Of course you’re watching the clock, but it doesn’t hit you right away. … It’s this awkward feeling. You’re so excited, but then you think, what do I do now?”
Dance? Shout? Cry?
Hickman played nearly the perfect game, Mirts said. They put Rock Bridge’s Cunningham — named a McDonald’s All-American that afternoon — in foul trouble early. She subbed out with five minutes left in the second quarter and didn’t return until after halftime.
Rock Bridge didn’t score another field goal without her on the floor. She fouled out with 1:03 left in the fourth quarter.
Miller scored 10 points in the same period.
“Emily has been in her shadow for so long, and they’ve been winning,” Mirts said. “Emily is a great basketball player. I can’t ask her to do anymore for our program.”
Half an hour later, the scoreboard was still on. Miller went back to the gym for one more look, as if to make sure it was still there. Hickman 45, Rock Bridge 35.
She took another deep breath.
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.