With surgeon-like precision, Poplar Bluff picked apart Cape Central for a 58-45 win to advance to the HealthSouth Holiday Classic finals.
Cape Central executed its game plan well, but in the end it was Poplar Bluff's cool, confident style that spelled the difference.
The top-seeded Lady Mules, seeking their fifth straight HealthSouth crown, remained undefeated at 12-0, while the fourth-seeded Lady Tigers fell to 8-3.
Cape Central coach Sheila Midgett had nothing but praise for Poplar Bluff.
"They're really good," she said. "They're quick, they're aggressive, they all can shoot the ball well and they're bench is deep. They have a lot of kids that can play."
Cape Central mixed defenses in an effort to knock Poplar Bluff off its rhythm. The results were mixed, as well.
"On the offensive end, they tried a lot of different things on us -- the box and one, man, straight zone -- they were trying to mix it up and I thought our kids adjusted well," said Lady Mule coach Kirk Chronister.
The Lady Tigers hung tough in the first quarter, trailing by just six points at 18-12. But for a late 4-0 run by the Lady Mules, the score would have been closer.
Said Midgett, "We did a lot of different things to try to mix it up a little bit and I think that helped us."
Poplar Bluff increased its lead to 31-18 at the half, as the Lady Tigers managed to score only six points in the second period.
Midgett felt her team's inability to run its offense was critical.
"We couldn't get into any kind of an offensive set," she said. "We're not used to that kind of defensive pressure, because we don't see it from a lot of teams."
With a 42-27 lead entering the fourth quarter and Cape Central forced to foul, the Lady Mules took care of the ball and stepped to the free-throw line to hit 8 of 10 down the stretch.
Cape Central did cut the lead to eight midway through the final quarter, but the senior-dominated Poplar Bluff squad demonstrated its poise in crunch time.
"They're not going to throw the ball away and they're not going to miss their free throws," said Midgett.
Poplar Bluff shot 88 percent from the line, hitting 15 of 17. The Lady Tigers were five of nine.
Sarah Hyslop led the Lady Tigers with 20 points, followed by Alex Wieser with 13.
Jessica Wilson paced the Lady Mules with 20 points. Jera Ridens chipped in with 12.
Cape Central will meet Jackson for third place today at 5:30 p.m.