By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Walnut Grove, Mo. — With district play set to being Saturday, a pair of Class 1 heavyweights matched up in a final, regular-season showdown Thursday night.
A spirited, third-quarter run and perimeter defensive adjustments helped No. 8 Dora pull off a road upset in an 83-74 victory over No. 7 Walnut Grove.
With a slim, 33-31 advantage at the break, the Falcons utilized a 10-0 run midway through the third quarter to seize momentum and stretch the lead to as many as 11 points.
Freshman Bryson Luna poured in 13 points in the quarter to key Dora’s burst. One of the Falcons’ starting triplets, Luna brought the visiting crowd to its feet during the stretch with a series of screams and fist-pumps.
The 5-foot-11 guard was quick to credit his team’s approach to defense for the momentum-swinging run.
“Our defense turns into our offense,” Luna said. “[Walnut Grove] is a good team, so you’ve got to get out on the shooters and keep them off the 3-point line. We got a few steals, and they turned it over a little bit, so our defense helped us out there. I jumped one, got the layup down here and our team stepped up.”
Dora headed into the fourth quarter with a 58-50 advantage; however, few leads are safe with the long-range capabilities possessed by Walnut Grove’s sharpshooting trio of Logan Thomazin, Hunter Gilkey and Dawson Meinders.
The Falcons held Walnut Grove to ten 3-pointers in the contest — three in the final quarter — with a rotation of defensive looks.
Dora head coach Rick Luna talked about the importance of contesting shots on the perimeter and limiting open opportunities.
“We felt like we did a good job on [Thomazin], and then we look at the book, and he had 24,” Coach Luna said. “We fouled him, and he does a great job of getting you in the air and getting into you, and Meinders just shoots the crap out of the ball. I think first half we played more 1-3-1 and man, and then the second half switched to a 1-2-2 to where we could get out on the shooters.”
Freshman Isaac Haney led the Falcons with 22 points. He was joined in double figures by Bryson Luna (21), Kaleb Harris (15) and Mason Luna (14).
While Haney and the Luna trio typically account for the bulk of Dora’s scoring, Coach Luna stressed his team’s ability to move the ball and play unselfishly always leaves the door open for opportunities. For the senior Harris, that opportunity turned into a season-high 15 points.
“With this bunch, you’ve got to be ready to step up, because you never know when your number’s going to be called,” Coach Luna said. “I felt like we moved the ball and made them work a little bit more in the third quarter, defensively, than they wanted to, and then we made the extra pass and got the open shot.”
With the regular season in the rear-view mirror, Dora now prepares for what it hopes to be a deep, playoff run.
“All season long, we’ve played a tough schedule,” Coach Luna said. “[Walnut Grove] was our seventh or eighth state-ranked team we’ve played this year, so our schedule has prepared us for this. You’ve got to have a good, competitive game, win or lose, going into districts, to kind of light the fire underneath them.”
After the game, Walnut Grove head coach Darin Meinders discussed the key factor in the Tigers’ outcome.
“[Dora’s] kids played hard, and they’re a good team,” Coach Meinders said. “We didn’t match their intensity, they hit free throws and we didn’t.”
Thomazin led a trio of double-digit scorers for Walnut Grove with 24 points. Gilkey and Dawson Meinders added 23 and 15, respectively.
Despite the loss, Coach Meinders wasted little time shifting gears to the Tigers’ pending tournament run.
“This game, in the scheme of things, means nothing to us,” Coach Meinders said. “The only thing it means to us is we lost our first Class 1 game in two years. Our goals haven’t changed. We plan on playing in the middle of March and putting another banner up.”
Both teams move on to district quarterfinal play Saturday, Feb. 17. District 5 top seed Walnut Grove (16-9) travels to Willard Saturday, Feb. 17, to face Wheaton, while District 4 top seed Dora (20-5) hosts Niangua.
Varsity Final: Dora – 83, Walnut Grove – 74
Dora 17 16 25 25 — 83
Walnut Grove 14 17 19 24 — 74
Dora scoring: Isaac Haney – 22, Bryson Luna – 21, Kaleb Harris – 15, Mason Luna – 14, Austin White – 8 Auston Luna – 3,
Walnut Grove scoring: Logan Thomazin – 24, Hunter Gilkey – 23, Dawson Meinders – 15, Ryan Keith – 9, Rylee Gavisk – 3
JV Final: Dora – 66, Walnut Grove – 51
(Colby Collins – 21 points)