By Angie Brushwood (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Walnut Grove, MO – Saturday’s finals round of the Walnut Grove Holiday Classic tournament will showcase the number one and two seeds, the Walnut Grove Tigers and the Forsyth Panthers. The Walnut Grove Tigers bested the Pierce City Eagles in Friday’s semifinals, 61-52. The Eagles trailed by 20 points throughout most of the second half, but they pushed back late in the 4th, coming within 8 points after a trey by the Eagles’ Aaron Garner, 56-48.
The Panthers’ comeback was too late to defeat the state champion Tigers. The remainder of the game was decided at the foul line, with the Eagles going 4 for 4 and the Tigers 5 for 11, enough for a Walnut Grove win at 61-52.
Walnut Grove head coach Darin Meinders was pleased with the Tigers’ tenacity under pressure.
“We took some shots that we probably didn’t need to take,” said Meinders. “Pierce City is a heck of a team. They’re big, they’re physical. So I was really proud of our kids. We hit some big free throws down the stretch. We’ve had some injuries, we’ve had some sickness, and it showed our grit to fight through that.”
Dawson Meinders (jr.) came through for the Tigers with 23 points on the night, including five 3-pointers and 4-for-4 at the line when it mattered most, late in the 4th quarter.
Walnut Grove head coach Darrin Meinders felt the Tigers overcame their own mistakes.
“We didn’t do a good job of closing out; I felt like we took some bad shots,” said Meinders. “But down the stretch, we handled the ball, and I thought Dawson hit some big free throws to secure it and keep the lead where they couldn’t get back and make it really tight for us.”
The intensity of that 4th quarter rally spilled over into the stands, as fans on both sides expressed their frustration.
“That’s just basketball,” said Meinders. “It’s two good teams going at it. If you’ve got good teams and you’ve got good players, it’s going to be competitive and it’s going to get heated at times. But as long as it’s all in the heat of the battle and you keep it in basketball, it all works itself out.”
Trailing 36-18 after the first half, Trey Sagehorn helped pull the Eagles out of their slump by scoring 9 of his 13 points in the third quarter. Donell Kleiboeker scored all of his 9 points for Pierce City at the line, going 9 for 12.
Walnut Grove 20 16 14 11 — 61
Pierce City 9 9 17 17 — 52
Pierce City: Donell Kleiboeker 13, Trey Sagehorn 12, Hunter Tindell 12, Aaron Garner 9, Jackson Kleiboeker 4, Hunter Hatfield 2 – 52
Walnut Grove: Dawson Meinders 23, Logan Thomazin 15, Ryan Keith 11, Hunter Gilkey 10, Cory Countryman 2 – 61
Forsyth advances past Verona
The Verona Wildcats and Forsyth Panthers fought for a spot in the tournament final tomorrow. The Panthers took an early and steady lead and sealed their spot in the finals, 63-50.
The Panthers led by 10 at the half, 26-16. The Wildcats’ Caleb Hillhouse scored in the 3rd and was answered with a trey by the Panthers’ Micaiah Rocha, 33-20. Hillhouse scored his own three-pointer and followed with another bucket, narrowing the Wildcats’ lead to 33-25.
The Wildcats’ Anthony Stanford sank two goals, followed by a goal by Alex Powell and a final trey by Dawson Deroo, ending the 3rd with a comfortable lead for Forsyth, 42-29.
Five treys by the Wildcats in the 4th were not enough to close the gap, and the Panthers will advance to the finals on Saturday against Walnut Grove, 63-50.
Forsyth coach Josh Hart knows the Panthers will have a tough match against the Walnut Grove Tigers.
“They’re good. They’re absolutely good,” said Hart. “Everybody can say they’re 1A, we’re 3A, but that doesn’t matter; they’re good. They’ve got all their pieces back too. They’ve been missing some of their pieces, so their record is misleading as well. We’re going to have to come to play. They can shoot it, they run the floor, and they get after it on defense. So we’ll hopefully get some rest tonight, come back in, fired up for a championship game.”
Forsyth: Anthony Stanford 21, Micaiah Rocha 15, James Kohn 14, Dawson Deroo 11, Alex Powell 2 — 63
Verona: Kolton Pinkly 21, Caleb Hillhouse 12, Eddie Gutierrez 8, Dominic Fernandez 6, Anthony Martinez 3 – 50
Forsyth 13 13 16 21 — 63
Verona 10 6 13 21 — 50