By Matt Turer // @MattTurer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
WALNUT GROVE, Mo. — Two of the best point guards in southwest Missouri put on a show Saturday night in front of a packed gym in Walnut Grove.
In the end, it was Faith Gilkey and the host Tigers that were left standing.
Gilkey poured in 34 points, Lauren Johnson, Grace McPhail and Makayla McVay all reached double figures and the Walnut Grove Tigers outdueled the Hartville Eagles to a 79-71 final to secure back-to-back titles in their own tournament.
“We set our trophies up at the entrance to our gym,” Walnut Grove head coach Rory Henry said. “We want to win this tournament. It’s important to us and it’s like a district championship atmosphere. This kind of game prepares you for postseason.”
The championship is the eighth in 15 years for Walnut Grove (11-0) in its tournament, and the 79 points scored by the Tigers is the most ever scored in the girls tournament championship. Hartville’s 71 points finish as the third-highest total. Gilkey and Sadie Chisum’s nights were the reasons why.
Gilkey scored 12 of her 34 points in the fourth quarter, helping repel a Hartville (10-2) team that trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half but pulled within six in the fourth quarter.
“She’s our leader,” Henry said of Gilkey. “She sets the tone on the offensive and defensive end with how fast and hard she plays. When we need points she’s able to step up.”
It was Gilkey that won the point guard war and went home with the tournament MVP, but Chisum matched her every step of the way, finishing with 34 points of her own with 21 coming in the second half.
“You get a bit spoiled seeing [Chisum] every night,” Hartville head coach Mike Percival said. “The same problems we were having trying to guard Gilkey were the same problems coach Henry had trying to guard Chisum.”
“She’s the best girl I’ve had to guard all year. Hands down,” Gilkey said.
Hartville began chipping away late in the second quarter, closing a 14-point gap to 11 on a buzzer-beating Chisum 3-pointer.
“We weren’t happy with how we started,” Percival said. “Giving up that many points in the first quarter is not very good. We had to fight through that all night long.”
Lauren Johnson opened the third quarter with a three to push the Tigers lead back to 14 at 41-27, but the Eagles drew within eight with just four seconds left in the third after two Chisum free throws.
“Chisum absolutely willed them back into that game,” Henry said.
That’s when Gilkey responded with the biggest play of the game. Taking the inbound, the sophomore sprinted just beyond the 3-point line and tossed up a floater at the buzzer that sunk and stopped an 8-1 Hartville run.
“I thought it was going to be tipped,” Gilkey said. “I just threw it up there. But when it went in I was pretty pumped.”
Hartville pulled within single digits again to open the fourth quarter and stayed there for most of the final eight minutes, but the Eagles could never pull closer than six points.
“Every time they made a run I felt like we did a good job making plays, and that was a huge one,” Henry said. “Faith had a heck of a game. She just battled. It was so much fun to watch Chisum versus Gilkey.”
It was the first time since 2011 that the final was decided by single digits.
“Winning this is huge for us,” Gilkey said. “It’s a tough tournament. It’s kind of like a district championship environment. People always ask why we don’t play in the Pink & White, but to play in our own gym in front of this type of a crowd is good for us.”
HHS // 14 – 13 – 21 – 23 — |71|
WGS // 27 – 11 – 21 – 21 — |79|
Hartville- Sadie Chisum 34, Grace Culver 15, McKinley Sanders 8, Skylar Divine 7, Jadalyn Keith 5
Walnut Grove- Faith Gilkey 34, Lauren Johnson 14, Grace McPhail 12, Makayla McVay 11, Myranda McVay 6, Sadye Crump 2