SOUTH SIOUX CITY | Good players like Michaela Jones made other good players like McKenna Sims play better.
Sims and her South Sioux City teammate, Marybeth Rasmussen, spent much of Saturday afternoon’s River Cities Conference Tournament final at the Mini-Dome guarding Jones, a Beatrice standout who went into the contest with a 23-point scoring average.
Jones scored a hard-earned 20 points, but had no offensive support from her teammates. Credit Sims, Rasmussen and others who had fine defensive efforts in a 52-36 victory that gave the Class B seventh-ranked Cardinals their fourth consecutive RCC Tournament title.
“I always feel she makes me better just playing against her because she knows how to play the game,” said Sims, the Cardinals' leader with 14 points. “I love playing against them because they’re such great people and they’re such hard workers. You have to make sure she doesn’t get the ball because when she has the ball, she’s a threat. She’ll go to the basket and get points on the board.”
Jones, who tallied 19 points in last year's 58-47 RCC Tournament title loss to South Sioux City, was limited to just a pair of free throws in the fourth quarter. Coach Molly Hornbeck’s Cardinals had gone on a 10-0 third-quarter run to take a 41-27 lead and Jones responded with a 3-pointer to trim the deficit to 41-30 with 2:08 left, but that was her last field goal of the game.
“Sometimes, you can’t always control if your shots are falling or not, but you can always control your effort defensively,” said Hornbeck, whose squad limited Beatrice to 27.7 percent shooting and forced 27 turnovers.
“I thought our girls did a very nice job pressuring the ball and containing Michaela Jones and knocking off a very talented Beatrice team. We talked before the game that she’s going to get her 20, but we have to make her work for them and we’ve got to make sure she has to distribute the ball and doesn’t try to take over the game herself.”
Rasmussen and Kori Fischer each tallied 11 points as South Sioux City (13-4) posted its fifth straight win. During each of the wins in the streak, Hornbeck’s squad has allowed 40 points or fewer.
The Cardinals collected 13 steals, five coming from Rasmussen. Sims added three steals while Fischer and Taryn Christensen each recorded two steals for a squad that scored nine points off turnovers.
Sims, the squad’s leading scorer with a 17.4 average, did a fine job of looking for teammates in the second half as the squad maintained their lead. She threw assists on baskets from Fischer and Christensen to begin the third quarter and also fired a scoring pass on the first of Rasmussen’s two third-quarter 3-point baskets.
Beatrice (7-6) had crept within 31-27 following Carley Leners’ offensive rebound basket and Jones’ slither in the lane. Sims’ assist on Rasmussen’s trey began the decisive run that put the Cardinals on a double-digit edge the rest of the game.
“(Sims) is a very strong all-around player,” said Hornbeck. “Selfish would not be one of the words I would use to describe her. She’s always looking to kick and she’s always looking for her teammates. We have a lot of other talented girls on this team who are aggressive and offensive-minded. It helps when we have multiple scoring threats.”
South Sioux City will play at Class A second-ranked Millard South Tuesday night.