By BRETT MARSHALL
HAYS — There's a difference between redemption and revenge, but somehow after its 34-30 victory over St. John in the Class 1A semifinal on Friday at Gross Memorial Coliseum, the South Gray Lady Rebels had a little of both.
The No. 1-ranked and undefeated Rebels will now play for the state championship for the third consecutive year, having won in 2008 over Weskan before falling to St. John in last year's title game.
South Gray faces Argonia, a winner over St. Paul 47-30, for the championship today at 5:30 p.m.
The Rebels victory Thursday came in much the same way St. John won a year ago — patience on offense and a stifling defense. The Tigers mustered just 31.6 percent (12-of-38) from the floor, while the Rebels hit a solid 16-of-34 from the field for 47.1 percent.
"I think it's the best game we've played and we just found a different way to win," first-year Rebel coach Andy Gillen said. "The thing I like about these girls is that they just find a way to win."
Offensively, the duo of senior Kayla Thomas and junior Mikayla Skidmore carried the scoring load for South Gray. Thomas, playing a low post position for much of the game because of a match-up advantage with 5-foot-3 guard Brooke Burgan (Thomas is 5-10), was able to score 12 of her game-high 16 points in the first half.
"I usually don't play down low but I was confident that I could score because of my height advantage," said Thomas, who finished 8-of-9 from the floor. "It was a little strange down there but once we got going I was pretty comfortable with it."
The duo came up with the game's biggest play late when Skidmore found Thomas down low with an entry pass, then broke for the basket on the weak side.
Thomas flipped a pass to Skidmore, who took the pass and laid it in breaking a 30-30 tie.
"We do that a lot and it's something we've done hundreds of times over the years," Thomas said.
Skidmore iced the game sinking two free throws with 11.9 seconds left.
"I haven't sank free throws when I've needed, but I didn't have a doubt that I was going to make those," Skidmore said. "I thought our defense was really great and this group has a lot of heart."
The game had a similar start to the title game from last year. Both teams started slow on the offensive end and the Rebels completed the first quarter with a 6-4 lead. With Thomas scoring 10 points in the second quarter, the Lady Rebels went in at intermission ahead 18-11.
By virtue of three 3-pointers in the third quarter, the Tigers climbed back into the game and trailed only by four after three periods. After Burgan knocked down her third trey of the game with 4:17 to go, the Lady Tigers had their first lead (27-26) since 4-2 in the early first quarter.
Skidmore answered with a layup to put the Rebels back on top at 3:55 before Teresa Wade's bank shot gave St. John its final lead, 29-28, with 2:50 to play.
"Darn right, this feels good," Gillen said. "I wasn't here, but I've heard from a lot of people. We've got one more win to go to really celebrate. We'll enjoy this for a little bit and then get ready for tomorrow."
The South Gray defense held St. John's 1-2 scoring punch of Wade and Burgan to 26 points (13 apiece) after they combined for 35 in their quarterfinal win on Wednesday against Frankfort.
South Gray 34, St. John 30
ST. JOHN (25-2) — Burgan 5-17 0-0 13, Smith 1-6 0-2 3, Waters 0-3 0-0 0, Ward 0-1 1-2 1, Wade 6-10 1-2 13, Osborne 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 12-38 2-6 30.
SOUTH GRAY (27-0) — Hesser 1-10 0-0, Skidmore 6-8 2-3 14, K. Thomas 8-9 0-1 16, Zehr 0-2 0-0 0, H. Thomas 0-3 0-0 0, Kisner 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 16-34 2-4 34.
St. John 6 5 11 8 -- 30
South Gray 6 12 8 8 -- 34
3-point goals — St. John 4-10 (Burgan 3-7, Smith 1-3), South Gray 0-10 (Hesser 0-3, Skidmore 0-2, Zehr 0-2, H. Thomas 0-3). Rebounds — South Gray 21 (K. Thomas 7), St. John 28 (Wade 9). Turnovers — South Gray 7, St. John 11. Assists — South Gray 5 (K. Thomas 2), St. John 5 (Osborne 2). Blocked shots — South Gray 3 (Skidmore, K. Thomas, H. Thomas 1 each), St. John 2 (Ward, Wade 1 each). Steals — South Gray 6 (Hesser 2, Kisner 2), St. John 1 (Wade). Fouls — South Gray 12, St. John 10.