By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Eric Orne saw all he needed to see in the first half of the Columbia Rock Bridge girls basketball team's Dec. 2 game against Blue Springs at the Norm Stewart Classic in Columbia, Mo.
Orne, Quincy Notre Dame's girls basketball coach, was there to scout the Bruins. QND (7-0) will play Rock Bridge (5-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Rumble on the River shootout at John Wood Community College. The Lady Raiders play Harrisburg (Mo.), the defending Missouri Class 2 champions, in the shootout at 6 p.m. Friday.
Orne watched as Rock Bridge, Missouri Class 5's defending champion and top-ranked team, took a 39-14 halftime lead over Blue Springs. Blue Springs was ranked No. 2 in Class 5 and was last year's Class 5 runner-up.
"I'd seen enough. They're running on all cylinders right now," Orne said of Rock Bridge.
The Bruins wound up beating Blue Springs 64-32. Other than a 45-39 win over Smithville, last year's Class 4 runner-up, Rock Bridge defeated each of its first five opponents by at least 29 points. The Bruins play Northwest (Kan.) in the Hy-Vee Shootout at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo., on Friday.
This is the third straight year QND, ranked No. 2 in Class 3A, and Rock Bridge will meet in the Rumble on the River. QND beat Rock Bridge 55-49 in overtime in 2010 en route to a 31-1 season and Class 2A state title. Rock Bridge overcame a three-point halftime deficit last year to beat QND 70-60. The Lady Raiders went on to finish 33-1 and win their second straight 2A title.
Like QND, Rock Bridge lost two starters off last year's team. Forward Lindsey Cunningham graduated and is now redshirting as a freshman on the Missouri women's basketball team. Forward Bri Porter, a 6-foot-3 junior and a Missouri commit, suffered an offseason knee injury and isn't playing.
Still, Rock Bridge returned plenty of firepower, including sophomore point guard Sophie Cunningham, a Missouri commit and Lindsey Cunningham's sister, and 6-4 sophomore forward Cierra Porter, a Missouri commit and Bri Porter's sister.
"After watching them play Blue Springs, I'm convinced they're better this year than they were last year," Orne said. "They shoot the ball extremely well from the outside – a lot better than I remember from last year."
Rock Bridge made seven 3-pointers against Blue Springs. The Bruins were 6 of 9 from beyond the arc in their win over QND last season. Rock Bridge also has size. Cierra Porter is one of seven Bruins who are at least 5-11.
"I think they try to be certainly an outside team early on, but I think they're smart enough to know if they're not hitting their shots, they're going to go inside," Orne said.
QND has star power of its own. Jordan Frericks, a 6-1 senior forward and a Missouri signee, leads the Lady Raiders at 18.3 points per game. Kassidy Gengenbacher, a 5-10 senior guard and a Lindenwood signee, is averaging 17.6 points per game.
The Lady Raiders lack the size they had last season, however, so matching up with Rock Bridge could be tough. Frericks is QND's only player who is at least 5-11.
"I think our quickness is something we're going to have to use against them," Orne said.
Orne expects the game against Harrisburg to be marked by a quick pace.
"They like to play like we do," Orne said. "They play up-tempo with a full-court press. They like to run-and-gun a lot. It's going to be in one of those games that we like to be in."
Then comes Rock Bridge, which Orne said is "maybe the most talented team we'll see all year."
"It's going to take a tremendous effort on our part, but it's something I think the girls are geared up for," he said.